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Clinton's Last Stand

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Tuesday, May 6th, was the decisive night in the struggle for the Democratic nomination. It provided new insight into the character of the two competitors.

Coming into the Indiana and North Carolina primaries, Hillary Clinton appeared to have the momentum. Her supporters were counting on decisive victories to prolong her winning streak and give a fundraising boost to a campaign starved for cash. They believed she could run the deck on the remaining primaries, close the delegate gap with Barack Obama, and make a compelling case with the all-important super delegates that Senator Clinton had found her voice and, therefore, would prove to be more effective campaigning against the Republican Candidate, John McCain, in the Fall.

Now, with her big loss in North Carolina, and unexpectedly narrow victory in Indiana, all the wind has been taken out of Clinton's sails. This presents her with three deadly problems: There is no way she can overtake Obama in either the number of elected delegates or the total popular vote. Therefore, there is no effective case she can make to the super delegates. And, finally, there is no compelling argument she can make to potential donors. Clinton's bid for the nomination has failed. Sadly, she appears unable to recognize this reality.

Money Matters. Given Hillary Clinton's name recognition and the active involvement of former President Bill Clinton, it initially seemed as though her victory was inevitable. Her opponents competed against the formidable Clinton campaign team, one with strong connections to deep-pocket donors and the Democratic establishment in every state.

The reason that Senator Obama stayed in the race, and triumphed after fifteen months, was his ability to raise lots of money. While many will argue he won because he ran a smarter campaign than Clinton, the big surprise was that the junior Senator from Illinois, a newcomer to the national political scene, raised more money than did the Clinton machine.

Now, Democratic power brokers want to close down the battle for the nomination because they don't want to spend any more money on it, they would rather shepherd their resources for the battle in the fall. They sense Democrats have an opportunity to substantially increase their majorities in the House and Senate - perhaps gain the magical 60-40 majority in the Senate - and they know it will take a lots money to do that. They've decided Obama is a better fundraiser.

Temperament Matters. A famous aphorism is, "Life's a grindstone. Whether it wears you down or polishes you up depends upon what you're made of." The race for the Democratic convention has subjected both Clinton and Obama to a political grindstone. After a rocky start where her primary political persona seemed to be "I'm inevitable," Clinton found her voice and proved much more effective in the role of "a fighter." Meanwhile, Obama, already a skilled orator, became more comfortable with day-to-day campaigning and learned the little things that often make a big difference; for example, that he looks much better shooting baskets than he does rolling a bowling ball.

In the Fall, when Obama faces off against McCain, the temperament of each candidate will be an important topic. Already articles have suggested Senator McCain is temperamentally unsuited to be President: a hothead, someone who carries long-term grudges, perhaps a person who suffers from PTSD.

During the past fifteen months, we've learned Senator Obama is remarkably even tempered. His single worst evening was the April 16th debate in Pennsylvania, where he was attacked not only by Senator Clinton but also by the debate moderator Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos. While many observers described Obama's demeanor as "subdued" or "defensive," others noted that in the middle of a period where he was berated for the comments of his former pastor and the "bitter" remarks he'd made a few days earlier, Obama never lost his temper. But voters noticed and it heightened their opinion Obama would do better against McCain, provide a more striking contrast.

During this same extended period voters have had the opportunity to study the character of Senator Clinton and have noticed three things: She hasn't run an effective campaign; her message has been confused and she's written off states that she shouldn't have. The second is that she and her husband have on occasion taken the low road - seemingly made the decision that the ends justified the means - Bill Clinton played the race card in South Carolina and Hillary Clinton played the pander card in her support for the gas-tax rebate.

The third thing we've learned is that Senator Clinton places her own ambition ahead of the best interests of the Democratic Party. That was apparent in 2006 when, in the middle of an easy race for re-election, she amassed a huge war chest for her Presidential bid rather than share her funds with needy Democratic candidates. And it's obvious now, when she has no chance of becoming the Presidential nominee, when her only motivation is self-aggrandizement.
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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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