“We cannot win with eggheads and African-Americans,” Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and Clinton ally, said on CNN last week.
The eggheads he was referring to presumably are those young, college-educated and affluent voters who are wild about Barack Obama. As for African-American voters who for too long have been taken for granted by the Democratic Party, I guess they don’t count for much anymore, seeing how they have been treated by the Clintons in this primary campaign.
In his own crude way, Begala was saying nothing more than what Hillary Clinton and her surrogates have been telling undecided superdelegates — that Obama is unelectable because, as her big-state victories show, he cannot “close the deal” with white, working-class voters who could be the key to a Democratic victory in November.
Polls suggest that Obama could have a problem winning these so-called Reagan Democrats in the general election, but so could Clinton up against John McCain. The former first lady ignores the fact that Obama so far has won more white votes than she did in 17 states, including Alaska, Colorado, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska and Utah.
Clinton no longer feels the need to speak in code about the issue of race in this campaign. She is openly presenting herself as her party’s Great White Vote-Getter. In an interview last week with USA Today, she cited an Associated Press story “that found how Sen. Obama’s support among working, hard-working, white Americans, is weakening again. . . . There’s a pattern emerging here.”
So this is the last gasp of her historic, once high-flying campaign, now fatally wounded and bankrupt — dividing Democrats along lines of class and race. Even George McGovern, one of her early supporters, called on Clinton to bow out of the race before she does further damage to her party’s chances in November. However, Clinton vowed to fight on in the remaining six contests, even though she must know that her dream is shattered, that she has lost the presidential nomination she once thought would be inevitably hers.
The question is no longer how Clinton can win but how she will lose. She can go out with grace, dignity and class, or with cold blast of resentment and defiance.
Some Democrats haven’t given up on the idea of an Obama-Clinton ticket. It’s not clear Clinton would accept the vice presidential nomination, not that Obama is likely to offer it as a consolation prize. Sen. Ted Kennedy said last week he doesn’t think such a ticket is “possible” and urged Obama to select a running mate “who is in tune with his appeal to the nobler aspirations of the American people.”
An Obama-Clinton dream ticket could turn into a nightmare, putting Clinton in the awkward position of trying to defend the Democratic nominee against Republican attacks taken straight from her own slash-and-burn playbook.
Tucker Eskew, a veteran Republican strategist in Washington, said last week that Clinton had shown Republicans “how to run against Obama.” And you can bet they won’t waste any of Clinton’s attack lines. Imagine the McCain campaign lifting some of her exact words to raise questions about Obama’s relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers, a former member of the radical Weather Underground in the ’60s. And does anyone believe the Republican attack machine will forget that Clinton is on record saying she and McCain are ready to serve as commander in chief and Obama is not?
It appears all that is left are the terms of Clinton’s surrender.
Thomas Edsall of the Huffington Post suggested last week that Democrats could use the “prospects of major rewards” to ease Clinton out of the race.
“One of the most inviting is the near certainty that the Obama campaign would agree to pay back the $11.4 million she has loaned her own bid, along with an estimated $10-to-$15-million in unpaid campaign expenses,” Edsall wrote. “In addition, Democrats, both those who are loyal and those who opposed to her campaign, say the odds of her winning a top leadership spot in the Senate would improve dramatically if she gracefully conceded now. The icing on the cake includes an improved political climate, giving Hillary and Bill Clinton the opportunity to heal the rift with the black political community.”
That would be a generous offer, considering the damage she has done to her party. It could solve Clinton’s money problems and give her a high-profile Senate post that would position her for another run for president in four years if Obama were to lose to John McCain. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid is considered vulnerable to a challenge next year.
However, Clinton could sour this deal — and forever tarnish the Clinton legacy in Democratic politics — if she uses the remaining weeks of the primary season to inflict further damage on Obama’s candidacy. Even some of her own supporters are urging Clinton, if she insists on fighting on, to lay off Obama and turn her political fire on McCain. The worst thing Clinton can do for her party and her own political future is to ignore that advice.
Surely Clinton realizes that she is at a point where she risks losing more than her party’s presidential nomination.
(Contact Philip Gailey at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(Philip Gailey is editor of editorials for the St. Petersburg Times. E-mail gailey(at)sptimes.com.)