A bold headline from the NYT: "Pundits Declare the Race Over."
Very early this morning, after many voters had already gone to sleep, the conventional wisdom of the elite political pundit class that resides on television shifted hard, and possibly irretrievably, against SenatorHillary Clinton's continued viability as a presidential candidate....(The NY Post, as always, was a little more obvious.)
The thought echoed throughout the world of instant political analysis, steamrolling the Clinton campaign’s attempts to promote the idea that her victory in Indiana was nonetheless an upset in the face of Mr. Obama’s heavy spending and his campaign’s predictions that he would win there, or that she could still come back if delegates in Florida and Michigan are seated.
What a big 5% that was in NC. Had Obama won by nine, he'd have garnered nearly as many delegates, would still have a commanding lead in the popular vote, and would still be roughly where he is this morning. But by getting a 14-point win, he's now all but the declared nominee. None of that, of course, has anything to do with Clinton. She woke up today not a lot worse off than she expected--which means she's still a very long shot away from the White House. Perceptions may have changed, but the math not so much.
(You could say that what really happened was the two-month vacation from reality has ended. Winning primaries somehow allowed the Clinton campaign to create a bubble of optimism that kept the math at bay. Last night the bubble popped.)
So what will she do? She has three options, but the third--the nuclear option--is merely hypothetical. The first option is to suspend her campaign before Puerto Rico. Too many of her volunteers have worked too hard for her to rob voters in WV, Kentucky, Oregon, South Dakota, and Montana of their chance at relevance. But she could admit to having read the writing on the wall.
The second option is to concede after Puerto Rico, in a graceful, party-uniting gesture, perhaps even with Obama on hand. (Even a closed, mournful affair would be adequate to begin uniting the party.)
What she won't do is exercise the nuclear option, despite people's worst fears. Clinton is a street fighter, a tough candidate who wasn't afraid to take hard shots to win the campaign. But there's absolutely no evidence that she's not, in the end, a team player. She has worked diligently for eight years as a senator and is one of the most reliable Democratic votes, having stuck with her party over 94% of the time since 2001. At 61, she's not at the end of her career--a cabinet position, a Supreme Court seat, a veep nod, or Senate Majority Leader are all potential futures. I'm sure the comment threads will light up with criticism for the way she ran her campaign, but by November, when Obama's the president-elect, all will be forgotten and forgiven.
For Clinton, the end of this campaign is now manifest, and what remains is a classy exit. She will play the most pivotal role in the remaining weeks of the primary, and has almost as much influence over the results in November as Obama. If she fights for Obama as hard as Dean did for Kerry, the party will enter the general with enormous enthusiasm and unity. I expect to see her do the right thing and look forward to seeing the Democrats finally turn their energy outward, at the woeful candidacy of John McCain.