Nobody knows if she has the votes to do it, but the opportunity is ripe.
She not only is vigorously attacking Barack Obama but simultaneously portraying herself as a victim.
It is a nifty political two-step.
She is a victim because a male-dominated press corps has counted her out, she says, and has lavished praise on Obama without submitting him to any real scrutiny.
At a Clinton rally in Westerville, Ohio, on Sunday, one woman carried a sign that read: “DON’T LET THE PRESS BOY-CRUSH PICK OUR PRESIDENT.”
Time’s Karen Tumulty noted: “Indeed, at Clinton’s first event of the day, there was almost an anger at the idea that the pundits and the press have anointed a winner before the people have voted.”
And Clinton told the crowd: “We’re coming back. … We need someone in the White House again who is a fighter!”
Clinton used the “victim who battles back” theme effectively in New Hampshire, where she scored the upset that allowed her campaign to continue after being whacked by Obama in Iowa.
Some very bright commentators have written recently that Clinton should have dropped out before Tuesday’s primaries in Texas, Ohio, Vermont and Rhode Island. I don’t get this at all.
Quitting before you are defeated does not encourage people to work for you, vote for you or give money to you in the future. And Clinton has not yet been defeated.
Yes, she has to worry about 2012, when, if she does not get the nomination this time, she will either be up for reelection to the Senate or could run for president again. But someone who stands up and fights is the image she needs. She does not want the image of someone who cuts and runs when the going gets tough.
Nor do I think, as some do, that Bill Clinton’s statement that she needs to win both Texas and Ohio to gain the nomination was (yet another) grievous tactical error.
The Clinton campaign had to serve notice that Tuesday is it. The campaign is facing elimination after 11 Obama victories in a row and with superdelegates swinging his way. Both Clintons had to motivate voters in Texas and Ohio by serving final notice. They had to tell them: Get up off the couch and vote now, or it’s all over.
Even those voters who were not particularly passionate for Hillary but just wanted the campaign to go on needed to be told that they had to get out and vote for that to happen. Maybe the voters just wanted more excitement, or to find out what was in her tax returns, or to hear Obama fully explain his relationship with Tony Rezko. As Clinton would say: Whatever.
Clinton had to raise the stakes by raising the bar: It’s Tuesday or bust.
And along with victimhood, Clinton has finally found a powerful theme, the same theme that George W. Bush used at his convention and in his reelection campaign in 2004: Vote for me or die.
With her “3 a.m. phone call” ad, she is saying exactly what Bush said: I will protect you and your children, and the other guy will not.
Yes, there is irony in a Democrat trying to getting the nomination by adopting a Republican tactic, but, hey, you know what? It worked back then, and Clinton is betting it will work now.
It is not a perfect theme for Clinton. She cannot point to any examples of actually having solved a national security crisis at 3 a.m. or any other time, but her argument is that she has the judgment and experience that Obama lacks to protect the nation.
She is throwing in “kitchen sink” stuff, too: She is hitting Obama for not being candid about NAFTA, and she is even making some odd (and unpleasant) statements on his religion.
On “60 Minutes” Sunday, when Steve Croft asked Clinton if she believed Obama was a Muslim, she replied: “No. No, there is nothing to base that on. As far as I know.”
“As far as I knw”? Doesn’t that just continue a smear? (Obama said Sunday: “I pray to Jesus every night. I am a devout Christian.”)
This is not appetizing stuff by Clinton. This is the stuff a candidate who is facing elimination does to hang on.
So can you be both a victim and a victimizer? Of course you can. In politics, anything is possible.
In an interview with ABC News last week, Clinton agreed that many women around the country feel sorry for her. “I think a lot of women project their own feelings in their lives on to me,” Clinton said. “Everywhere I go, people say, ‘Don’t give up, don’t give up, stay with this.’’’
Clinton added: “There is something going on here.”
On Monday, her chief spokesman, Howard Wolfson, said: “If people wake up Wednesday and the headlines read ‘Clinton wins Ohio and Texas,’ we have a whole new ballgame here.”
We will. Now all she has to do is actually win.