Clinton finds it hard to get off the stage

Having Hillary as a running mate could be Obama's dream ticket, or his nightmare

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The Gazette, Monday, June 9, 2008

As Barack Obama clinched the Democratic nomination last Tuesday night, Hillary Clinton was introduced to a crowd of supporters in New York as the next president of the United States. "I understand," she said, "that a lot of people are asking, what does Hillary want."

Actually, they weren't. They were asking why didn't she get it, and why she didn't know how to lose with grace, so that Obama could claim the prize and savour the moment. Not only as the victor, but as the first black American to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. party.

"Now the question is, where do we go from here?" Clinton said. "In the coming days, I'll be consulting with supporters and party leaders to determine how to move forward with the best interests of our party and our country guiding my way."

In the stages of grief, she was obviously somewhere between denial and acceptance. Clearly, she didn't know how to get off the stage.

By the time she finished her remarks, the decision was out of her hands. The networks had already called it. Obama had passed the magic number of 2,118 and crossed the finish line. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, had already given a badly written, badly delivered speech welcoming Obama as his opponent. Obama was about to go on stage in Minnesota to give his victory speech. If Hillary couldn't play her scripted role as the gracious loser, that was decidedly her problem.

In the world of news, the dogs bark, the caravan moves.on. By the next morning, it had moved on. The networks had all moved past the primary race to the general election. The grandees of the Democratic Party declared the race over. By day's end on Wednesday, Clinton was conceding, as she should have the night before. And by the weekend, she was finally prepared to endorse Obama.

In the meantime, last Thursday, the entire congressional delegation from her state of New York gathered to endorse Obama. And Obama stopped by the Democratic National Committee, where they gave him the keys to the car. In a surreal night scene, Obama and Clinton were said to meet secretly at her Washington home, which was lit up like a Christmas tree, with Secret Service war wagons in the driveway. As it turned it, the media stakeout was a bust. Maybe Bill Clinton was home, but she wasn't. She was meeting Obama at an "undisclosed location," maybe Dick Cheney's bunker.

To her question, what does Hillary want?, she has since made it clear that she is not campaigning for a place on the ticket, that the choice of a vice-presidential nominee is entirely Obama's call.

But it raises another question: Why not Hillary?

After all, she ran the most competitive race for a nomination in U.S. history. She narrowly lost the popular vote and, as she said, "I want the nearly 18 million Americans who voted for me to be respected."

There is no doubt that she could help Obama with a lot of voters where she ran much stronger than he did: among older voters, among women, among blue-collar Reagan Democrats, among Hispanics and white males. She can go the distance and she has proven that not only can she take a punch, she can pack a punch, the surrogate role of the VP candidate. She undeniably won all the big states, like California and New York, that the Democrats count on in the fall, but also swing states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania that greatly influence the math.

And as of last Tuesday night, it's a new math, not delegate math but Electoral College math, where 270 votes are needed to win the presidency.

Moreover, she represents the Clinton name, which Obama himself has called "the best brand in the Democratic Party."

But that's also the problem, as in Bill. His latest public meltdown, over a tough article in Vanity Fair, is a reminder not only of his epic self-absorption, but his ability to occupy space in the news cycle. Does Obama really want Bill Clinton hanging around the West Wing of the White House? Does he want the psychodrama of the Clintons on his watch? Could the dream ticket become Obama's nightmare?

Is she qualified to be president, if and when? Of course. Can she help Obama win? Obviously. Can he win without her? Now, there's a good question.

This is supposed to be the year of the Democrats. Already, they are winning congressional byelections deep in Republican country. The fundamentals favour Obama over McCain, from a slowing economy to high unemployment, not to mention the housing crisis brought on by the sub-prime fiasco. There's Iraq. There's Katrina. There's George W. Bush. Fully 85 per cent of Americans think the country is going in the wrong direction.

McCain, as a moderate with strong appeal to independent voters, makes the Republicans competitive. But this election is Obama's to lose.

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