Hillary’s lost – but will she concede?

by Stephen Tall on May 7, 2008

The results of the Democratic primaries in Indiana and North Carolina look certain to end Senator Hillary Clinton’s 2008 bid for the White House: Senator Barack Obama is now the presumptive nominee of his party.

Though Clinton won ‘blue-collar’ Indiana, the wafer-thin 51%-49% margin severely undermines her claim that only she can appeal to the voters who will likely decide this November’s general election match-up with the Republican’s Senator John McCain. That Obama cruised to victory in North Carolina by a larger-than-expected 14% will serve to pile further pressure on Clinton to withdraw her candidacy imminently and gracefully to allow the Democratic party to unite against McCain. It is now impossible for her to overhaul Obama’s lead, either in the popular vote or pledged delegates, as even her campaign team accepts. Over the next couple of days, more and more superdelegates are expected to declare for Obama.

Until now, Clinton has been able to justify staying in the contest on the grounds that all the American people deserve to have a say through the primary-process about who should be the Democratic nominee. Now they’ve made their choice, and opted for her opponent, she’ll need to turn that on its head, and argue that the superdelegates must overturn the popular verdict. It was a tough sell before the Indiana result was known: it’ll be next-to impossible now.

The question, then, is not if but when – and how. Will Clinton fight through the final remaining primaries in June? Would she be prepared to drag the process on into the Democratic party’s August convention? No-one can order her to stop (though a joint request from Jimmy Carter and Al Gore on behalf of the party has been mooted and would surely hammer in the final nail). The question she must be asking herself today is: where do I go from here? Because the answer to that will determine her next move.

Does she see her career now in the Senate? Does she want to pitch for the Vice-President ticket with Obama? Or does she want to run again, either in 2012 (if Obama loses) or even 2016 (if he wins)? In any of those eventualities, she’s going to need the goodwill, and money, of Democratic activists, voters and donors. It’s hard to see how they will gain a more favourable view of her if she prolongs the party’s primary process unnecessarily. The end-game is here.