Pennsylvania: Clinton Is Alive and Kicking - And Threatening To Tear the Party Apart?

| Wed Apr. 23, 2008 1:42 AM EDT

clinton-standing250x200.jpgThe Democratic contest has been a 50-50 proposition for months now--more precisely, a 51-49 percent endeavor or maybe a 52-48-percent face-off in Barack Obama's favor, according to the pledged delegate count and the popular vote. Hillary Clinton's 9-point win in the Keystone State (which apparently did not net her a significant pickup in pledged delegates) does not change this. In fact, her Pennsylvania triumph does not change the fundamentals of the race. Obama is still on track to end the primaries with a slight edge in pledged delegates. And Clinton is still in the race, clinging tightly to her candidacy and reiterating rationales to stay in the hunt: I have more experience; I'm better prepared to be commander-in-chief; I've withstood the worst of the GOP attack machine; I've won the big states.

Bottom line: It's not over, and the contest is not likely to end anytime soon. At HRC HQ in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, Terry McAuliffe, Clinton's campaign manager, ebulliently declared, "She is taking this all the way to Denver." But many Democratic superdelegates and insiders are hardly enthusiastic about a bitterly fought campaign that trudges through the next nine primaries (which conclude in early June) and then continues, as a media-driven contest of Democrat-on-Democrat sniping, for three months until the convention in Denver at the end of August. The question is, will these Democrats be able to do anything about it?

If Clinton is committed to going the distance, she cannot be stopped. No one--not even those mighty superdelegates--can literally force her out. She cannot win the final primaries by margins large enough to erase Obama's lead in voter-determined delegates. Everyone knows that. But she can keep on challenging Obama, doing well enough--winning some contests or placing a strong second--to justify, at least to herself and her supporters, her continued presence in the race. During that time, she can hope something happens that does alter the landscape (look, evidence that Obama is indeed a secret Muslim!), and she can also lay the groundwork for a post-primaries effort to persuade superdelegates to overturn Obama's narrow victory among pledged delegates. Yet that project can only succeed with successful assaults on Obama. Her path to the nomination depends on one fuel: fierce attacks. She can win the nomination only by tearing down Obama after the voting is done and by threatening party unity.

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