As the obituaries for the Clinton campaign rolled in last week, the candidate herself refused to be buried. She said that she would stay in the race “until there is a nominee.” Most seemed to think that this meant that she would concede defeat if the Obama campaign could assemble enough pledged delegates and super-delegates to pass the magic number of 2025 — or 2209 according to the Clinton campaign. But whatever the number, there will be no official nominee until the votes are cast at the party convention. What I heard in that statement was that Hillary was taking her fight to Denver.
Is this realistic? Most analysts are writing her off. But ask yourself: Does Hillary Clinton have as much gumption as Ted Kennedy did in 1980? Back then he went all the way to the convention, using many of the same arguments against Jimmy Carter that the Clinton campaign is currently employing, though he had a much weaker hand.
In late May 1980 the primaries were almost over. Ronald Reagan had recently clinched the GOP nomination, having gained the necessary delegates to force George H.W. Bush out of the race. President Carter, who had expected to be easily renominated, was facing a tough challenge by Senator Edward Kennedy, who was capitalizing on concerns of some Democrats that Carter, saddled with a poor economy and a series of foreign-policy disasters, would be unelectable in the fall. Kennedy had amassed a substantial number of delegates, but Carter was only 28 short of the 1,666 needed to nominate. The final eight primaries were to be held on “Super Tuesday” June 3, with the largest prize being California.
The Carter campaign maintained that Kennedy’s hopeless challenge was damaging to party unity, and that he should drop out of the race. Kennedy in fact had offered to withdraw if the president agreed to a debate with the senator (which Carter had been ducking), and if he subsequently won most of the June 3 primaries. The Carter team rejected the idea, but it allowed Kennedy to claim he was acting in good faith and the best interests of the party. Two days before the final primaries Kennedy stated, “I am not prepared to withdraw from this race. I believe that it can be won — and that it must be won, for the good of our party and our country.”
When the Super Tuesday results were in, Carter had won in Ohio, West Virginia ,and Montana. It was, in his words, a “wondrous victory.” He garnered 320 delegates, pushing his total to 1,958, well over the 1,666 needed to nominate, and over 700 more than Kennedy’s 1,215. He offered “the hand of friendship” to the senator, whom he thought would acknowledge defeat, since the nomination was mathematically impossible at that point.
But Kennedy was not ready to concede. Quite the opposite. “The people have decided that this campaign must go on,” he declared. “The people have decided that what counts is not the quantity of delegates, but the quality of their lives.” Kennedy had won 53 percent of the total delegates at stake on Super Tuesday, taking California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and New Mexico. It was his best night of the season.