While Hillary Clinton was giving her “victory” speech last night in Indiana her winning margin was shrinking. By the time all the votes are counted it could be as little as 10,000 votes. Compare this to Barack Obama’s margin in North Carolina of over 200,000. Clinton claimed the Hoosier state was a tiebreaker, in reality it was a tie.
So the questions on everyone’s mind this morning are: Who is going to tell her to drop out and how much damage has been done? Most Democrats seem willing to allow Hillary the time and space to play out the last few primaries, provided she refrains from more attacks on Obama, but there are concerns that unifying the party after such a long and bitter fight won’t be easy.
Thanks to the bizarre rules the Democratic Party devised for their primary, the unique candidates involved, and the identity politics the party has embraced a hard fought contest that has resulted in polarization and bitterness on a grand scale.
The campaign has become racially polarized. Obama depends on winning over 90% of the African American vote to achieve his large margins. Hillary meanwhile garners 60% of the white vote even in states where she loses. Democrats have been playing identity politics for years and it looks like their voters have embraced that perspective with gusto.
This has led to a high level of bitterness. African Americans are convinced that the Clintons “played the race card” against Obama while white working class voters are deeply suspicious of Obama’s faith and patriotism. Nearly sixty percent of both Obama and Hillary supporters say they will be upset should the other candidate be the nominee. Two thirds of Democratic primary voters in Indiana and North Carolina said they are likely to be disappointed with their party’s eventual candidate!
In order to keep alive her slim chances of winning, Hillary has had to drive this wedge as hard as she possibly can. Her entire strategy is based on convincing voters and superdelegates that Obama can’t win. She has portrayed him as an out of touch elitist that won’t fight for the working man whose pastor says outrageous and offensive things. Her campaign has all but questioned his manhood.
The harder she has pushed herself as the candidate of the white working class the more the African American community has resented her and her husband. The more Hillary attacked Obama the more the liberal media elite and angry netroots derided her for her “Republican tactics” and using the “Right Wing playbook.”
Even as Obama racked up large margins in his preferred demographics Hillary’s constituency refused to be swayed. Obama has not found a way to reach out beyond his base. As long as Hillary stays in the race it is in her best interest to highlight this fact and acerbate this rift. As a result, less than half of her supporters in North Carolina said they were prepared to vote for Obama over McCain come November.
That brings us back to the first question: Who will tell Hillary to drop out? Who has the influence and seniority to tell her it is over? Howard Dean? Al Gore? Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid? It is hard to see any of them carrying much weight with the Clintons.
No, Hillary will only stop when she is convinced there is no longer the slightest chance of victory. She is convinced that a Democrat is poised to win in November no matter what happens between now and the convention and she will use every tactic and loophole open to her and probably create a few of her own.
A sure sign that she is planning to fight to the very end is news that she has loaned the campaign $6.4 million in the last month for a total loan of nearly $12 million. Her campaign has made it clear that they view any resolution that doesn’t involve the seating of the Florida and Michigan delegates as illegitimate. This means even after the primary the fight moves on to committee meetings and maybe even the convention itself.
Last night had the feel of something decisive. But the underlying question remains: how far is she willing to go and how much damage can she do?
Only Hillary knows the answer to that question.