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Starting Gate: Don't Leave Angry

Just leave. That's the unmistakable message that's been delivered to Hillary Clinton by the media and even some Democrats since Barack Obama sealed enough delegates to become the presumptive nominee.

Clinton's failure to use her Tuesday night "victory" speech (she did win South Dakota, after all) to flat out end her campaign rankled many who seemed to desperately want to hear two words from her: I quit. It's a measure of the complex relationship America (and the Democratic Party) has with the Clintons that her inability to do so sparked a flurry of speculation that she might still keep her quest up.

Would she really fight the decision on Michigan with the DNC's credentials committee? Would she take it all the way to the convention without conceding an inch, trying to strip Obama of support one superdelegate at a time? Did she have something up her sleeve or know something that nobody else did? "How much more time does she need to be able to say the person she wants to help is Barack Obama?" Rep. Charles Rangel, a staunch Clinton supporter, told the Washington Post. "I don't know what this intrigue is all about."

Of course Clinton didn't help matters when she told a group of supporters Tuesday that she would be "open" to accepting a spot on the ticket if asked. Before Obama had even reached the delegate threshold, she appeared to be stealing the stage, spurring speculation that she would take her half of the party and use it as leverage to force her way into the mix for November. Any other candidate likely would have been given the opportunity to take their time to throw in the towel without the kind of drama Clinton produced.

Even late yesterday when word began circulating that she would be making an announcement on Saturday the frenzy continued. Was she dropping out or pulling a repeat of Tuesday when she "acknowledged" Obama's delegate win but didn't give up the fight? Was she quitting or merely "suspending" her campaign for the time being (a mostly meaningless distinction in practical terms)? Would she finally say, "I quit?"

In a middle-of-the-night missive to supporters, Clinton tried to set things straight. "On Saturday, I will extend my congratulations to Senator Obama and my support for his candidacy," she wrote. "This has been a long and hard-fought campaign, but as I have always said, my differences with Senator Obama are small compared to the differences we have with Senator McCain and the Republicans. I have said throughout the campaign that I would strongly support Senator Obama if he were the Democratic Party's nominee, and I intend to deliver on that promise."

The primary campaign is over and the general election has begun in earnest but it's up to Clinton to put some final closure to the party warfare of the past 18 months. And to do so, she has to leave the stage. Will she finally?

Around The Track

  • The DNC shows off the Wall Street Journal op-ed: "Politics has become hi-tech with sophisticated databases, the Internet, TV ads, focus groups and polls. But a lanky Sangamon County, Ill., lawyer described the essential task of politics in 1840 in a letter to his Whig campaign committee. Make a list of the voters, he wrote, ascertain for whom they will vote, have undecided voters talked to by someone they hold in confidence, and, on Election Day, get all Whig voters to the polls." That man, of course, was Abraham Lincoln.
  • Chicago developer Tony Rezko, once a big fundraiser for Obama, was convicted on 16 of 24 corruption charges in his federal trial yesterday.
  • In case you missed it, Obama leads McCain 48 percent to 42 percent in the latest CBS News poll.
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