Even though Hillary Clinton is campaigning onward, a key question for her is how gracious a loser she can be. How she handles what seems to be her pending defeat could affect Barack Obama's prospects in the fall and her own future political career, especially if Obama is defeated by John McCain in the fall. Regarding the former, much media attention has been showered on the possibility that many Clinton voters are so mad-as-hell that they won't vote for Obama in November. On Monday, The Washington Post front-paged a piece on PO'ed women who support Clinton and suggested that some of these voters will choose John McCain rather than vote for the guy who dashed Clinton's glass-ceiling-breaking dreams.
For Clinton, a test will be what she does to mitigate the anger of her followers and lead them into Obama-land. Right now, she appears to be putting off this challenge until after the primaries end of June 3. Which is fine. But her campaign does seems content until then to flame her voters' sense of being aggrieved.
In a memo entitled "Mission Accomplished? Not So Fast" that was sent to reporters on Monday, Howard Wolfson, the Clinton campaign's communications director, wrote:
Senator Obama's plan to declare himself the Democratic nominee tomorrow night in Iowa is a slap in the face to the millions of voters in the remaining primary states and to Senator Clinton's 17 million supporters.
There is no scenario under the rules of the Democratic National Committee by which Senator Obama will be able to claim the nomination tomorrow night. He will not have 2210 delegates, the number needed with Florida and Michigan included in the process, nor will he have 2025 delegates, the number needed to secure the nomination without Florida and Michigan.
Premature victory laps and false declarations of victory are unwarranted. Declaring mission accomplished does not make it so.
While Senator Obama inaccurately declares himself the nominee, Senator Clinton will continue to work hard, campaigning for every vote in the upcoming states and making the case that she will be the best nominee to take on John McCain and be our next President.
Well, with Montana, South Dakota and Puerto Rico left to vote after Tuesday, there really aren't millions of voters. And residents of late-voting states are usually shafted in primary contests. Candidates routinely declare victory before the primaries are finished. Wolfson also is ignoring the fact that Clinton has previously recognized 2025 as the magic number of delegates needed for the nomination. (Now her campaign focused on the 2210 figure, which only would be operative if the disputed primaries of Florida and Michigan are counted.)
It's certainly within the rights of the Clinton campaign to say "whoa" to Obama. And she has ceased attacking Obama on the campaign stump. (She even defended Obama against George W. Bush's implicit attack that he is an appeaser.) But if she and her aides treat Obama's close win as an insult and unfair development, they will have a tougher time nudging her supporters into his column in the fall election. And this is not just about helping Obama. To keep her own political future alive--she can easily run again if Obama loses in the fall--Clinton will have to do all she can to assist Obama in the general election. She and her people ought to not make that job any harder for themselves than it might already be.