June 03, 2008

Obama's Victory Train is Leaving the Station; Will Hillary Get on Board?

After the American Century

Its finally over. The person with the most pledged and "super" delegates is Senator Obama, with 2154. Senator Clinton has 1919. He gave a powerful speech in Minneapolis to a packed hall., not incidentally the same hall that the Republicans will be using to nominate McCain at the end of the summer. She spoke to a smaller crowd of supporters, close to her adopted home, in New York, and refused to concede. Can she swallow her pride and do what is best for the Party? Or will she become one of the bitter, defeated figures of history? She has lost, but will she choose to make losing part of her identity? Will she, in effect, help John McCain?

The New York Times
estimated several hours before the polls closed that Obama only needed 12 votes to clinch his victory. Thus, on paper at least, the primaries in Montana and South Dakota put him over the top. The turnout was reported to be heavy. However, there were only 31 delegates at stake in these two physically large but sparsely populated states, and in fact that was not enough to make much of a difference. If Hillary had won them all, she would still be more than 200 behind. In any case, it was not possible to win them all, given the proportional system in use. While final delegate results are not yet in, apparently Obama won by a slight majority in these two states (taken together) on the last day of the primaries.

Obama needed so few of the last primary votes because he successfully won over the super delegates. Clinton once had the advantage with that constituency, but in the last month almost none of these political professionals have opted for her candidacy, and Obama now has about 107 more of them than she does. Indeed, a parade of new supporters appeared in the last few days, pushing him to the brink of success. Furthermore, as soon as the polls closed, a number of super delegates announced for him, most notably former president, Jimmy Carter, and the majority whip in the House of Representatives, James Clayburn. If the superdelegates put him over the top, in other words, they were careful to wait until the end of the voting, so that it coincided with it.

Clinton not only lost among both delegates and super delegates. She also lost financially- Hillary Clinton has lent millions of dollars to her own campaign, joining Mitt Romney as a rich candidate who failed, despite having deep pockets. It seems that a rich person cannot (yet?) buy the office of president. On the other side, Obama who has no personal fortune, out-fundraised Clinton. This is the real measure of popular support, as millions of Americans gave him relatively small amounts. In contrast, Clinton long relied on large donors and did accept money from lobbyists, which Obama did not.

Yet even with all the warning signs flashing, Hillary Clinton refused to admit that defeat was coming, as she kept on campaigning vigorously in South Dakota, where polls suggested that the race was close. and where she indeed won. She virtually conceded Montana to Obama. Afterwards, she refused to make a concession speech, denying the party closure and cementing her image as a defiant fighter. But now she is not fighting against the odds, because it is statistically over. Hillary can either help unite the Democratic Party or she can increase the divisions in it. She has to decide how much she wants to get the Republicans out of the White House.

The longer she waits, the more unrealistic and petty she looks. Obama has been gracious, he has praised her a good deal of late, and he has offered to sit down privately with her to talk. But he will not give her the power to decide anything for him. Clinton needs to realize that she has a small window in time before the campaign train leaves the station. History will move on, and she can either board the train as a passenger or stay on the platform. She must abandon the fantasy that she will be the engineer driving the train. If she cannot concede defeat and begin to support the party's choice, then she may quickly become a minor figure shrinking in the distance.