Obama-Clinton is No Match Made in Heaven

Originally posted: May 16, 2008

ken-bodeCommentators on cable news shows all agree on one thing: Based on pure mathematics, there are not enough delegates left in the remaining primaries for Hillary Clinton to overtake Barack Obama.

Look at the math. It’s over. So why does she stay in? Because it’s not math, it’s poker. It’s strategy. It’s luck. It’s bluff. And eyeball-to-eyeball, Obama might yet be forced to blink.

Once the primaries pass, the endgame is up to Clinton, and she has some powerful hole cards yet to play. Most important is the decision by the Democratic Rules and Bylaws Committee on May 31 on what to do about Florida and Michigan. The likely outcome is that both states will have their delegations reduced but the votes distributed so as not to alter the final result. If Clinton doesn’t like the delegate split she’s offered, she has more than sufficient committee support to file a minority report and send the fight to the convention floor in Denver.

There is enough precedent for this in Democratic Party history that it strikes cold fear in those old enough to remember how the prolonged and bitter challenge from Hubert Humphrey damaged George McGovern in 1972 and what Ted Kennedy did to Jimmy Carter in 1980. Both conventions featured serious, televised battles, and both produced landslide losers.

Clinton has the convention challenge up her sleeve, but she is likely to make an earlier play. After her huge win in West Virginia, there is one more similar payday coming next week in Kentucky. She can then continue her tone of recent days: the kinder, gentler Hillary, downplaying the negativism against Obama but justly trumpeting her successes.

She neither has to leave the race nor concede she has lost. She can remain personally agnostic about her interest in the vice presidential nomination, while nodding to her millions of supporters to launch a campaign demanding that Obama offer her the job. This is Obama’s worst nightmare.

Clinton Obama ABC Debate Ap16.jpg

What’s their argument? First, she deserves it. She has proved to the very end that there are crucial voting blocs in critical swing states that she has won every time. Second, she has earned it. Not selecting her would be as devastating to her millions of loyal women supporters as denying Obama the nomination would be to his youthful and African-American supporters. So, instigate a draft Hillary movement.

Besides, there is precedent in both parties for a top-tier opponent ending up with the second spot. In 1980, Ronald Reagan chose George H.W. Bush. In 2004, John Kerry picked John Edwards. Neither instance, however, featured this year’s negativity nor the resulting discomfort between the candidates. The 2008 “dream ticket” of January definitely has gone south.

By picking Clinton, Obama would be handing a load of ammunition to the Republicans for November. Visualize the GOP ads with the Democratic vice presidential nominee sincerely telling voters that John McCain is more qualified than Obama, or reminding us again that Obama can’t get white votes. Imagine another commercial featuring Bill Clinton calling Obama “a roll of the dice,” with Hillary adding that the inexperienced Obama is “a leap of faith.”

Another consideration is that Clinton brings baggage that no other candidate can match, baggage that has never been unpacked. Throughout the primaries, she has been asked when the contributors to the Bill Clinton presidential library and to his foundation will be made public.

She says it’s up to her husband. He says never, because the donors were promised confidentiality. Why confidentiality?

We know that foreign governments and wealthy foreign businessmen have given millions, along with supporting Bill’s buck-raking foreign-speaking trips. If all of Bill’s baggage were to be unpacked and analyzed, these high-dollar “charitable contributions” may look more like early investments, aimed at currying favor with the spouse of a future president. That explains the promise of confidentiality.

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