She is not going to make it easy. In her victory statement in West Virginia, Hillary Clinton made clear that, in order to get her out of the race, Barack Obama is going to have to do something he has been unable to do up to now. He is going to have to knock Hillary out of this race — and decisively.
That has proved a hard thing for him to do in states Democrats most need in order to win in November. The message from Pennsylvania to Ohio to West Virginia is that Obama has yet to gain the confidence of Middle America. He cannot become president unless he does.
As this primary season comes to an end, the man who began this campaign promising to heal divides has himself become a source of division. And the woman who conservatives of all stripes once derided for her supposed leftist, McGovernite leanings and kooky ideas — like winning for children the right to sue their parents — talks about valuing the middle class.
What produced this ironic turn in events? Barack Obama. Voters of West Virginia made the most of their opportunity to let Obama know what they thought of his “bitter” characterization of them, when he thought he was among friends in San Francisco. (Reverend Wright proved but a sideshow.) That cleared the path for Clinton, graduate of Wellesley and Yale Law School and doyenne of Renaissance Weekends, to reposition herself as the champion of waitresses working second shifts. That this was possible serves as further proof that anything is possible in America.
Obama can expect Hillary to be on his heels all the way to Denver. There will be rules fights, credentials challenges, platform battles, and, perhaps multiple ballots. John McCain may end the year as more than the luckiest and the happiest man in the United States, but as president-elect.
– Alvin S. Felzenberg is author of The Leaders We Deserved and a Few We Didn’t: Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game (Basic Books).