Clinton will fold when convinced she has used up all options

SHARE Clinton will fold when convinced she has used up all options

‘My hope,” said an ardent supporter of Sen. Hillary Clinton and one of her donors, “is that she will do this with grace,” a reference to the exit strategy Clinton will use to depart from the race for the Democratic presidential nomination when she decides that Sen. Barack Obama indeed has an unbeatable lead.

Another big Clinton fund-raiser said, “She needs to get out quick,” before “she looks like she was forced out … but this is her call; no one is going to push.

After the Tuesday votes in Indiana and North Carolina, Clinton’s mathematical arguments for staying in the race shriveled. Clinton’s slim victory in Indiana was not enough to stop the torrent of stories — and this is one — about when she should fold, even as she argued she, not Obama, can beat Sen. John McCain in November.

“We can see the finish line,” said Obama campaign manager David Plouffe in a conference call Wednesday. The Obama campaign for weeks has been mapping out general election strategy, from building organizations in all of the states, to staffing, to thinking through a process to use for Obama to select his running mate. Today in Washington, Obama steps up his drive to woo uncommitted superdelegates, meeting on Capitol Hill with the House Blue Dog Democrats — the conservatives — as part of a big personal push.

“Well, I’m staying in this race until there is a nominee,” Clinton said while campaigning in West Virginia, with a primary vote next Tuesday. Today, Clinton starts her day in Washington and ends it more than 15 hours later, after stops in West Virginia and the May 20 states of Kentucky and Oregon. But dogging her now is the question of why is she doing this? She is out of money. The news came out Wednesday that Clinton poured another $6.4 million into her race, making a total of $11.4 million she has lent her campaign.

An answer I come up with is that Clinton, in the end, wants to fold when she concludes she has given this her best shot. And she’s not at that place yet. There are five states and Puerto Rico remaining to vote, superdelegates to woo, and a fight she wants to put up with the Democratic National Committee to seat the disputed delegates from Michigan and Florida with a formula that gives her an advantage.

But any endgame Clinton controls is contingent on her not having embarrassing losses in the races ahead and a stampede of superdelegates to Obama.

A scenario that emerged after talking to several Democrats involved in the Obama and Clinton campaigns is this: Clinton stays in until the June 3 last primaries in South Dakota and Montana, contingent on her winning some of the remaining contests along the way. That’s enough time for any image repair, more fund-raising and to make her summary speeches. That would preserve her legacy and keep her future options intact.

But that also means that Clinton and Obama cut out nasty campaigning, which I think they want to do because it serves them both to end on a high note.

Don Fowler, a former Democratic National Committee chairman, and a Clinton backer, says she should stay in if that’s what she wants, but “if she runs more Indianas, that’s not good.”

There’s no blueprint. Said Fowler, “I don’t think there is any grand plan on this. It’s incremental.”

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