It is true that Hillary Clinton doesn’t have much of a chance to wrest the nomination from Barack Obama whose tally of superdelegates continues to grow daily, thus bringing him ever closer to victory.
It is also true that Hillary Clinton will probably not be offered the vice presidency even if she wants it.
So if she can’t win and she won’t be picked as a running mate, what is driving Hillary Clinton to spend 20 hour days on the campaign trail and push herself to the physical and mental limit of her abilities; to exhaust herself in a what almost everyone tells her is a futile and doomed effort?
In a word, history.
So much is made of the historic nature of Obama’s breakthrough candidacy with regard to race that we tend to forget or at least downplay the fact that what Hillary Clinton has accomplished to this point would have been impossible thirty years ago.
For all the talk of “glass ceilings” and “old boys networks” — and there are still significant barriers to professional women who seek power and influence in the political and corporate world — Hillary Clinton’s candidacy has shattered a few of those ceilings as she has elbowed her way into the oldest and most male of all networks: serious consideration for the most powerful office on the planet.
So she bows her neck and keeps charging not so much because she still has a slim chance at the nomination, but because she feels an obligation to the millions of women who are out there now and who will follow in her footsteps. She is still in it for the shining faces of teenage girls who look back at her from the audience and who see beyond the dream of becoming president and can now taste the reality of it. She is in it for the seniors who she cultivates so assiduously and who see in her perhaps a culmination of all their hopes and dreams that never materialized in their lifetime because of the barriers that Hillary has now smashed to pieces, never to be erected again.
This is not a quest for the nomination as much as it is the road to a validation of her place in history. One can hardly fault her for trying to keep faith with the millions who see her as a living icon and a harbinger of things to come. For that reason, she may decide to stay in the race until the last primary has been held so that every woman who believes in her and, more importantly, what she represents, can be heard.
Clinton’s victory in West Virginia last night was expected as was her lopsided margin. A couple of striking numbers from the exit polls: West Virginians thought it important that Bill Clinton campaign with Hillary by a 61-35 margin. Clearly, the former president is an asset in reaching out to the white, blue-collar Democrats who continue to reject the idea that Mr. Obama is the better candidate. Hillary won every income group for those making less than $75,000 by 3-1 margins.
And West Virginia isn’t just one of those red states that Democrats never win anyway. As a border state, it is being targeted by the DNC, and Republicans have struggled in recent elections to win there. Bush barely won the state in 2000 and Kerry was competitive until the final weeks in 2004. In 1996, Bill Clinton easily defeated Bob Dole 51-35%. The Obama camp and his supporters may be heartily sick of hearing that their candidate does poorly with white working class voters, but in states like West Virginia and Kentucky, which holds its primary next week, it means the difference between winning and losing.
One other troubling number for Democrats from the exits was in the percentage of Hillary voters in West Virginia who say they will vote for John McCain in the fall rather than Obama. Fully 27% of respondents said they would vote Republican before voting for the probable Democratic nominee.
How real are those threats? History says it’s pretty much all talk and that after the convention the Democrats will be one big happy family again and go on to slaughter the Republicans in the fall. But frankly, trying to predict anything at this point given all the unknowns about having a black man running for president should give all the conventional wisdom freaks out there pause to reflect. Certainly that 27% will shrink, but by how much is anyone’s guess.
It’s on to Kentucky next week where Clinton will once again be outspent substantially by her opponent. With 70% of West Virginia Democrats saying they want the race to go on and only 24% wanting Clinton to drop out now, Hillary doesn’t need a lot of money to continue her campaign. All she needs are her legions of supporters marching down the long, winding road leading away from the darkness and into the light, in the hope that her history-making efforts inspire future generations of women to fulfill their own destinies.
Rick Moran is PJM Chicago editor; his own blog is Right Wing Nut House.