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Analysis: Race draws to end, time for legacies

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NEDRA PICKLER/BETH FOUHY/Associated Press
May 21, 2008
— — The Democratic presidential race is all but over.

Barring a cataclysmic change of events, Barack Obama will win enough pledged and superdelegates to capture the party’s nomination. The only real issue is whether he and rival Hillary Rodham Clinton leave the race with their futures — and their party — intact.


For Obama, that means winning with class so he endears himself to Clinton’s supporters — letting her leave the race on her own terms, without gloating or appearing to push her out with any disrespect. And Clinton has to be careful not to damage Obama and make her legacy a weakened Democratic nominee in the fall.


No matter what the New York senator and former first lady wants to do next — angle to be Obama’s running mate, make another presidential run or ascend one day to Senate Democratic leader, it’s in her interest to leave the 2008 race in a position of strength. She’s doing a bang-up job of that.


Even as Obama is steadily climbing toward the 2,026 delegates he needs to secure the nomination — he was within 70 after Tuesday night’s split decision in Kentucky and Oregon — Clinton has defeated him in four of the last seven primaries, including big states such as Pennsylvania.


Her decisive victories in Kentucky and West Virginia showed she has a durable base of support, particularly among white, working-class voters and older women. Obama can’t just discount those voters as he moves on to the general election.


Clinton said as much in an e-mail thanking supporters Tuesday night.


“The people of Kentucky have declared that this race isn’t over yet, and I’m listening to them — and to you,” she wrote.


Kentucky Democratic Party Chairwoman Jennifer Moore, one of roughly 200 superdelegates yet to be claimed by either candidate, said the Clintons will always have a loyal following in her state because voters there remember the economic good times of the 1990s.


“Clinton supporters need to get to know Barack Obama, get to understand that he stands for many of the same principles as Senator Clinton,” Moore said.


Obama offered his own olive branch Tuesday night, praising Clinton for her pioneering candidacy and acknowledging the millions who have voted for her.


“No matter how this primary ends, Senator Clinton has shattered myths and broken barriers and changed the America in which my daughters and your daughters will come of age, and for that we are grateful to her,” the Illinois senator said. “Some may see the millions upon millions of votes cast for each of us as evidence that our party is divided, but I see it as proof that we have never been more energized and united in our desire to take this country in a new direction.”


Steve Grossman, a former DNC chairman and Clinton fundraiser, said Obama is “wisely being patient,” not pushy, about pursuing Clinton backers.


“The art of the appropriate is not always present in politics,” he added. “It means you show respect, keep your distance, and understand what people are going through.”


Still, neither candidate has moved flawlessly toward reconciliation.


Even after it was clear Obama was on a path to the nomination, Clinton hasn’t been able to resist the occasional jab such as criticizing his health care plan. And in a newspaper interview following her West Virginia win last week, Clinton noted she was beating Obama among “working, hardworking Americans, white Americans” — a characterization that drew widespread criticism. Clinton later said she regretted the comment.


For his part, Obama has taken the risk of appearing to trivialize some of the final primaries, choosing to shadowbox with Republican John McCain in general election swing states rather than focus solely on the remaining Democratic contests. He’s already making plans to take over the Democratic National Committee.


“They want to claim victory and push Hillary aside — this is what Bush did to Gore in 2000, and we aren’t going to put up with it,” said Susie Buell, a top Clinton fundraiser based in San Francisco. “It’s wrong and corrupt.”


Buell helped launch a new organization, www.womencountpac.com, dedicated to giving Clinton’s female supporters an avenue to speak out. The group placed full page ads in The New York Times and USA Today proclaiming, “Not so fast: Hillary’s voice is our voice, and she is speaking for all of us.”


Clinton’s advisers are keenly aware that the calls for her to drop from the race are likely to intensify during the 10-day hiatus between Tuesday’s primaries and the next contest in Puerto Rico on June 1. But they say there is virtually no chance the former first lady will do so.


They say that she is firmly committed to staying in the race through the South Dakota and Montana primaries June 3 and the meeting of the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee May 31, where the situation involving disputed primaries in Michigan and Florida may be resolved.


Clinton was heading to Florida Wednesday to press that case, as was Obama, who is eyeing the state and a crucial general election battleground.


Clinton expects to do well in Puerto Rico on June 1 and her advisers say she will compete actively in South Dakota and Montana even though the three contests will yield just 86 delegates total.


But the numbers aren’t as important as the signal each primary will send to her supporters: She’s a fighter, not a quitter, and she’s got a future. Even after this race is over.



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