New York, New York – I arrived at Baruch College Tuesday night expecting to find a somber crowd. Hillary Clinton, it was rumored, was finally prepared to accept the fact that Barack Obama had attained an insurmountable lead in the delegate count and a lock on the Democratic nomination. Some speculated that despite her top advisers’ public insistences to the contrary, she might have chosen this night to concede.
Nope. Instead, it was like I stepped through the gymnasium doors and into a time warp. Suddenly it was the night of the Ohio primary all over again. Hillary had just scored a crucial victory! Hillary could still win this thing! Hillary wasn’t going anywhere! Her crowd of supporters tittered with that nervous energy born of bold and rebellious denial.
Reporters stood in semi-circles asking VIPs the same questions they had in Ohio, too, because nothing has changed. It is still impossible for Hillary to win, barring an unlikely scenario in which Obama rips off one of those Mission: Impossible–style rubber masks to reveal that he’s actually been Dick Cheney this whole time. Then, maybe the super-delegates give it to her.
Audacity to hope? Hillary’s supporters give a whole new meaning to the phrase. I watched a small outbreak of applause become an epidemic of wild cheering as news of Clinton’s victory in South Dakota spread through the room. When Clinton campaign chair Terry McAuliffe introduced her as the next president of the United States of America, the gymnasium roared.
Clinton wasted no time in getting to the point. After a brief nod to Obama that avoided giving him credit for specific achievements such as his now-unsurpassable lead in total delegates, Hillary launched into a story she tells often about meeting women on the campaign trail who were born before women could vote. But the story had a different meaning Tuesday night than it had in early states like Iowa and New Hampshire. This time it was an allegory about the importance of counting every vote. “Nearly 18 million of you cast your votes for our campaign,” Clinton said, “carrying the popular vote with more votes than any primary candidate in history.” (Yay!)
“Even when the pundits and the naysayers (Boo!) proclaimed week after week that this race was over, you kept on voting,” Clinton said:
You are the nurse on the second shift, the worker on the line, the waitress on her feet, the small business owner, the farmer, the teacher, the miner, the trucker, [the cowboy, the policeman, the Indian chief, etc.] . . . and because of you, we won together the swing states necessary to get to 270 electoral votes.
It takes a village of working-class stereotypes to scare a super-delegate into denying Obama the nomination, and Hillary showed no signs of straying from that course Tuesday night. “I will be making no decisions tonight,” she said. “But this has always been your campaign, so . . . I hope you’ll go to my website at HillaryClinton.com and share your thoughts with me and help in any way that you can.”
After hearing her speak, the supporters I talked to after the event sounded ready to go the distance with Hillary, if that’s what it takes. “I’m a little concerned,” said a Clinton donor and volunteer named Maureen, “but I’m hoping that she will stick with it and go on to Denver and sway the super-delegates and change their minds.”
Another supporter was more adamant. “Why concede? What’s to concede?” he said. “She wants to confer with her advisers and party leaders and see where we go from here.” I asked this supporter, a middle-aged black man named Floyd, if he would support Obama if Clinton dropped out of the race. “No, no, no,” he said. “I’m voting for McCain. If she’s not the nominee, I’m voting for McCain.”
As he made clear in a speech he delivered in New Orleans last night, McCain would be happy to take Floyd and any other Clinton supporters Floyd can bring with him. McCain paid tribute to Clinton by echoing one of her campaign’s most common complaints: “The media often overlooked how compassionately she spoke to the concerns and dreams of millions of Americans, and she deserves a lot more appreciation than she sometimes received.”
It was supposed to be Barack Obama’s big night. Hillary Clinton was supposed to step aside and let history happen. But she refused to play along. Earlier Tuesday she floated the idea that she’d be open to running as Obama’s VP, leading to speculation that she’s holding her supporters for that particular ransom. If that’s the case — and if Obama extends the offer — prepare yourself for one of the most awkward (and hilarious) shotgun marriages in the history of politics. Oh, and kiss any hopes of a Republican holding onto the White House goodbye.
– Stephen Spruiell is an NRO staff reporter.