The Clinton campaign has countered with a no-holds-barred effort to seat the delegates from Michigan and Florida, moving the magic number to 2,209 delegates, but even if these states were seated in lopsided numbers favorable to the junior New York senator, she would still fall short of the tallies accumulated by Obama. The Democratic Party Rules Committee is set to meet on the final day of the month, and DNC Chairman Howard Dean has pledged to seat state delegations from the previously-disqualified states, but the more likely scenario is an even division of the delegates between the two remaining contenders, closing yet another window for the never-say-die candidate.
If Clinton does not leave the race come May 20 or 31, the process continues for only three more days with primaries in Puerto Rico (she may well win here, too), Montana and South Dakota (should be Obama states). The fact of the matter is that there are not enough remaining delegates for her to close the gap, and even a sudden shift of superdelegates would fail to deliver the nomination to the former First Lady.
The even larger issue is the dearth of financial resources at her disposal to continue the fight. She has already reportedly loaned her campaign more than $11 million, and it becomes harder and harder to convince even the most diehard supporters to fund a lost cause. Rumors that she is staying in the race to extract help from the human ATM that is Obama were outright denied, but don't count out such a bargain. Senator John McCain did the same for Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and the Arizona senator is a much less prolific fundraiser.
Others are suggesting that Hillary is staying in the race to form the so-called "dream ticket," this version with Obama at the top. I consider this highly unlikely given the acrimonious nature of the campaign, not to mention Obama's mantra of change. Further ties to the Clinton's would suggest a reverse spin of the 42nd president's 1996 campaign theme: a bridge back to the 20th Century. Moreover, Clinton hails from a blue state, and Obama would be wiser to select a swing state governor and/or someone with stronger national security credentials than his own.
In the end, what this amounts to is a presidential obituary for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. She ran an admirable campaign, winning almost all of the most-populous states, and crashing through the glass ceiling in so many ways. She built a reliable coalition of support, a cohort that Obama must now rally to his cause or face a landslide defeat in an environment enormously favorable to his party. Indeed, if the Democratic Party relied upon the same winner-take-all rules as their GOP counterparts, Clinton would probably be the presumptive nominee at this juncture. She is not because the delegates were awarded proportionately in these large states where she won by sometimes convincing margins, and her gigantic oversight of caucus states where Obama out-organized her and is now on the cusp of claiming the party mantle.
The larger explanation lies in the candidacy of Barack Obama. Clinton was the presumptive nominee of the party, but his message of change resonated with voters across the country tired of war, nervous about economic fluctuations, and searching for competence from our national leaders. On January 2, one day before Iowans caucused and kicked off this historic nominating season, I had the privilege of hearing Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama speak just hours apart in the Cedar Rapids area. Clinton gave a stirring stump speech entirely on message and laden with policy details. She spoke to a substantial crowd of strong supporters, but everything was typical of my political experiences to date.
Obama, on the other hand, spoke to throngs in an auditorium reverberating with energy. He skimmed through a traditional cookbook of Democratic Party policies, but his delivery was more like that of a preacher than a politician. His army of young supporters canvassed the room and delivered a resounding win on caucus night. One couldn't help but feel that this was more of a movement than a campaign.
However, the race was far from over as Clinton rebounded with a surprise victory in New Hampshire five days later, then prevailed in the Nevada caucuses. They skipped contests in Michigan and Florida, although Clinton was on the ballot in both and beat Obama in Florida where his name also appeared. Little did we know how important these forgone opportunities would stand four months later. Obama rallied with a strong win in South Carolina, and the two split the two dozen contests on Super Tuesday, leaving the outcome muddied on a day that was supposed to determine the nominee.
The race then sifted to the Potomac Primary, where Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia all went heavily to Obama, and the streak continued with an easy win in Wisconsin as Obama broke into the Clinton coalition, even winning the ever-elusive white working class vote. Clinton was counted out, but she rebounded with a solid win in Ohio and a nail-biter in Texas, then used the intervening month to further batter her opponent and win convincingly in Pennsylvania, setting the stage for last Tuesday's split verdict.
Given this narrative, it is probably not wise to write off Hillary Rodham Clinton forever. Contrary to my expectations, an unexpected earthquake could still shake the electoral landscape and deliver her the nomination, or at least a place on the "dream ticket." If not, should Obama lose this fall, Clinton would be the odds-on favorite for the Democratic nomination come 2012. There may also be an opportunity to run for governor of New York if David Patterson decides not to seek re-election. Ultimately, she may even pursue the path of the Democratic Party's lion, Senator Edward Kennedy, who narrowly lost the 1980 nomination to Jimmy Carter, but returned to the Senate and only further cemented a distinguished career as an elder statesman and bearer of one of the most formidable modern political dynasties.