Die another day
Die another day
“SHE was humiliated in front of the whole country and she rose from the ashes, and look at her now.” That was how Shirley Deininger of Austin, Texas, explained why she supported Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. Ms Deininger was alluding to events of the 1990s. But Mrs Clinton is making a habit of bouncing back. On Tuesday March 4th, after weeks of struggle, doubts and losses, Mrs Clinton won do-or-die contests in Ohio and Texas. She also won Rhode Island. Barack Obama carried Vermont, but that will be small consolation. This is once again a race.
Mrs Clinton needed these victories. She and Barack Obama came out of the Super Tuesday contests on February 5th in a virtual tie. But during the next four weeks he won every contest—11 in a row. He built a modest but significant lead in the popular vote and the number of pledged delegates. Superdelegates, who support the candidate of their choosing, began to drift his way. Money flowed in. Momentum built. There were suggestions that Mrs Clinton should drop out and let the general election begin.
Even her supporters conceded that time was running out. Bill Clinton said that his wife needed to win both Texas and Ohio to carry on. On February 29th Mrs Clinton’s campaign sent out a rather pathetic memo that seemed to criticise Mr Obama for campaigning vigorously, holding rallies, “and—of course—making speeches.” Mark Penn, her chief strategist, sent out an email announcing that he had “no direct authority” in the campaign.
The situation looked bleak. But two things happened in the days before the primaries: Mr Obama stumbled, and Mrs Clinton stepped up. The Obama campaign faced a pair of minor scandals. The first concerned an unruly economist. Last month Austan Goolsbee, Mr Obama’s economic adviser, met a Canadian diplomat. According to a leaked memo, Mr Goolsbee said that Canada should not worry about the campaign’s professed hostility to NAFTA. Such comments were, according to the memo, “more reflective of political manoeuvring than policy.” Then, on March 3rd in Chicago, an old friend and former fundraiser, Tony Rezko, was put on trial on corruption charges.
Neither episode is particularly damning. But the Clinton campaign was able to suggest that Mr Obama is not the pure hero of popular folklore. And Mr Obama made things worse by getting huffy. At a press conference on March 3rd in San Antonio, he seemed irritated that he had to answer questions about either issue. In his telling, the good-hearted Mr Goolsbee had been invited to the Canadian consulate and had gone as an innocent courtesy, expecting a “casual conversation.” Mr Obama sounded especially peeved to be asked several questions about Mr Rezko.
In the meantime, Mrs Clinton was building her support. According to exit polls, she led by roughly 20 points in both Ohio and Texas among voters who had made up their minds in the last few days. Her “3am” advert, which asked voters to think about who they would want answering the phone in the White House in a moment of crisis, probably helped. The NAFTA flap was useful in economically depressed Ohio, where Mrs Clinton appeared to lead by ten points with most precincts reporting.
NAFTA is a less potent issue in Texas, which has generally benefited from trade with Mexico. And a large edge in early voting helped Mr Obama to keep Mrs Clinton to a narrow margin. But Mrs Clinton won roughly two-thirds of the Latinos, who turned out in record numbers. Polls had suggested that Mr Obama would make greater inroads with Latinos in Texas than he did.
What next? The nomination will go to the person who can amass 2,025 delegates. Before Tuesday Mr Obama led in the delegate count, but neither candidate would have been able to reach the magic number without superdelegates. That has not changed. So the campaigns now have to work out how to woo the superdelegates. Mrs Clinton can point to a victory in a state like Ohio and say that she can swing it to the Democratic column in November, but Mr Obama can point to his big success in Virginia and make a similar argument. Right now it seems that Mr Obama will be able to claim a lead in raw popular votes, but Mrs Clinton can point to her successes in primaries to Mr Obama’s successes in caucuses. The race between Mrs Clinton and Mr Obama will continue, and some Democrats will regret that. But Mrs Clinton has undoubtedly earned the right to be there.