hang on hillary

Posted on March 4, 2008

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Whatever happens tomorrow in Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island and Vermont, Hillary Clinton should hang in there all the way to the Democratic party convention in Denver, if the Democrats are truly serious about capturing the presidency from the Republicans.

After months of being impotent against the might of the Barack Obama phenomenon, the tide finally seems to be ebbing for the Obama movement.

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While Clinton could be credited for having found her groove (a little more anyway) by fine-tuning her experience-is-more-vital-during-a-crisis message, the bigger truth is that Obama is finally facing tougher questions and could unravel further if the race goes on longer.

Obama has been gleefully criticizing Clinton’s judgment, especially about Iraq. But he is getting a taste of his judgment being questioned as the corruption trial of his long-time friend and supporter, Tony Rezko, opened today in Chicago.

The media has only just started to give Obama the grilling that Clinton had to endure, by pressing him on how much Rezko raised for his campaign and the real estate deal Rezko helped Obama broker to buy his home in Chicago.

They have also pounced on the NAFTA trade agreement issue, an incident that only starts to hint at how Obama is really politics as usual, despite claims to the contrary.

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After days of denying that Obama’s camp had sent an adviser to reassure the Canadians that Obama’s rhetoric on the campaign trail of re-negotiating the trade agreement was just, well, rhetoric, a memo has surfaced from a Canadian official from the consulate in Chicago, stating that they had in fact spoken to Obama’s adviser, Austan D. Goolsbee. According to the memo, he had told the Canadians that Obama’s talk was meant to win votes in rustbelt states like Ohio and should not be seen as policy.

Then, there is the business of Obama not having held a single meeting since becoming the chairman of a Senate oversight committee on the forces fighting in Afghanistan. But Obama, while busy running for president, also made a fair retort by pointing out that Clinton had missed hearings on Afghanistan before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Contrary to what many of Clinton’s critics have claimed, the continuation of the Democratic race is not going to hurt the party. In fact it would strengthen the party by keeping attention on it well and alive.

More people than ever have turned out for the Democratic primaries and caucuses, overwhelming and delighting party operatives. Record amounts were donated to either Clinton and Obama and the appetite for the race has grown to the extent that “primary parties” are held on voting days for friends to gather and get the results together. The sustenance of the Democratic race would maintain buzz and interest and help the Democrats stay focused and geared up for the general elections.

That amount of excitement and enthusiasm also bodes well for the state of politics in the US. Remember when analysts were fretting about the indifference to the presidential races, with falling voter turnout over the years? If things remain as they do, this year’s turnout could buck the trend and see a spike.

In contrast to those who worry that more bitterness would ensue from the prolonged Democratic race, the intense campaigning and strategizing is actually going to sharpen the eventual nominee’s skills for the general elections. Moreover, the better they are at countering accusations and dealing with the blows from a fellow-Democratic opponent, the more it would help them face the Republican machine in the run-up to November.

The only problem seems to be that Obama’s supporters seem less inclined to vote for Clinton in the general elections if she does prevail, but Clinton supporters do not appear to have that same sentiment. They said they would be just as fired up to take back the White House and vote for Obama should he be the party’s nominee. That is a revealing hint of the level of maturity of Obama’s supporters, not necessarily a reflection of the candidate himself, but the animosity was certainly not helped by his wife Michelle’s equivocal attitude towards closing ranks with Clinton if she does beat her husband.

With the race going on, the attention of the media and the country remains trained on the Democrats. The Republican front-runner and almost certain nominee John McCain features in the coverage, but to a lesser degree than the Democrats.

It is interesting that on the Republican side, hopefuls like Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul but seen as long-shots, are still hanging on. Not as much rancor is directed against those two for “splitting” the Republican party nor is the clamor for their withdrawal as loud. This despite the fact that John McCain could actually get the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican party’s nomination directly from voters, which is not likely to be the case for either Obama or Clinton. Already having won 1,014 delegates, McCain will get the 1,191 needed to be the party’s nominee if he wins in tomorrow’s races. Mathematically, on the other hand, it is improbable that either Clinton or Obama would clinch the Democratic party’s nomination through pledged delegates and the party’s superdelegates would still have to be evoked to settle the race.

With the race being so close, it would be unfair to the voters of impending primary states not to have a chance to at last have their say. This race has been one of the most democratic and exciting in the history of primary races, which had usually seen a front runner wrap up the ticket months ahead of the party convention. So why not let people from the states who traditionally had a candidate foisted on them, only because they vote later, have a vote that matters?

Based on a just-released Washington Post-ABC News poll, voters want Clinton to remain in the race if she wins either of the big states, Texas or Ohio. Two thirds of Democrats feel that she should stay on and fight even if she takes one of the two. But if she does not prevail in either, she faces less enthusiasm, with 51% stating that she should bow out if she loses in both states.

Besides voters, the only other person who should decide when to call it a day is the candidate, certainly not pundits and party apparatchiks. For Clinton, she has to weigh whether the fight is futile or she really stands a chance. And for those who criticize her for being ruthlessly ambitious for wanting to win at all costs, consider this — Obama had only been in the US Senate for three years and has spent half of that time running for president, but has not been as harshly denounced as Clinton for his ambitions.

Things are getting close and Democrats deserve to have a longer and better look at whom they will nominate as their candidate, especially since they have such rich pickings this year. So let the primaries run their course before any premature obituary on either candidate is written.

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