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 Thursday, May 22, 2008

Hillary is Staying On to Spin It


Walter Shapiro

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The Tuesday night story line never varies: Hillary Clinton wins a primary (Pennsylvania, Indiana, West Virginia and Kentucky) and then, bizarrely enough, continues to behave as if she were a realistic candidate for president.

Instead of bowing to the inexorable arithmetic of Barack Obama's delegate lead, she takes comfort in more ephemeral numbers like her 250,000-vote victory margin in Kentucky.

Early in her first-lady years, Clinton described herself as "a Rorschach test."

But right now the image embedded in the ink blots is as perplexing as it has ever been. There are those who see Clinton staying in the race out of ill-concealed ambition -- whether it is a ploy to become Obama's indispensable running mate or to lay the groundwork for an I-told-you-so 2012 campaign.

Others go to the opposite extreme in theorizing about her delusion, denial or even wanton destructiveness.

These days, Hillary is in it to spin it. Her goal is to come out of the primaries (which end June 3 in South Dakota and Montana) with a popular-vote lead over Obama after toting up all the primaries.

It is not much of a strategy -- and it is hard for the Clinton spin team even to maintain it with a straight face -- but it is hers.

In theory, Clinton could gain at least 56 delegates on Obama if the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee votes May 31 to seat the disputed Michigan and Florida delegations.

But even a total victory for Clinton at the DNC meeting (which could be appealed to the Denver convention by the Obama forces) would amount to little more than a stay of execution. You can virtually mark it on your calendars: Sometime in the week after the June 3 primaries Obama is going to go over the top by legitimately claiming a majority of convention delegates.

Still, even the most realistic residents of Hillaryland take comfort in the continuing delays in officially heralding the Age of Obama. They are adept at noticing the qualms before the storm.

Maybe the morning after the June 3 primaries, Hillary and Bill Clinton will realize that it is finally time to pull the curtain down on the road show called "Return to the White House."

Maybe the entire Hillary spin team will be afflicted by a mysterious epidemic of laryngitis. Maybe the former first couple will be convinced to quit by quiet advice from people whose loyalty and discretion is beyond question -- counselors like campaign manager Maggie Williams, lawyer Vernon Jordan and strategist Harold Ickes.

But, for the moment, Hillary Clinton -- Democratic candidate for president -- is still too busy campaigning to contemplate her next step. After all, she may still hope: Last week West Virginia, this week Kentucky -- and next week, the world.

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