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Political pundits have spoken -- Clinton is through

May 08, 2008|James Rainey | Times Staff Writer

Hillary Rodham Clinton may be short on delegates, money and time, but she faced an even more ominous and intractable impediment Wednesday: a growing consensus in the media that her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination is doomed.

"We now know who the Democratic nominee's going to be, and no one's going to dispute it," Tim Russert declared late Tuesday on MSNBC.

By Wednesday, ABC's George Stephanopoulos said on "Good Morning America" that "this nomination fight is over." Bloggers at washingtonpost.com and the Huffington Post website reported that they had spoken to Clinton campaign insiders who acknowledged, as one said, that "there is no path to victory."

The New York Post put it more succinctly. In a front-page headline, the tabloid proclaimed its home state senator "Toast!"

However, Clinton and her staff signaled through the day Wednesday that she could continue her campaign and argued she would make a stronger general election opponent for apparent Republican nominee John McCain. Clinton said she would hang on "until there is a nominee."

Dramatic and sometimes overblown pronouncements by the media are nothing new in the protracted Democratic presidential race. Some commentators predicted Clinton would have trouble recovering from a January loss in the Iowa caucuses. Days ago, others questioned why her opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, had failed to "close the deal."

But various heavyweights in print, on television and on the Internet said the race had clearly turned late Tuesday, with Clinton following her solid Pennsylvania victory with a narrow win in Indiana and a resounding loss in North Carolina.

Clinton had not done enough, many commentators said, to overcome Obama's lead in delegates and in the popular vote, and the six remaining contests would not give her the opportunity to do so. The pundits also cited a continuing flow of elected officials and party activists, the unelected superdelegates, toward the Illinois senator.

Stephanopolous correctly projected early Wednesday that more superdelegates would proclaim their allegiance to Obama later in the day, adding that, in some unspecified time frame, "this nomination will be locked up" for Obama.

The New York Times reported that a chief strategist for former Vice President Al Gore and Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), two previous Democratic nominees, also pronounced Clinton's bid essentially over. "The campaign may go on but the contest is now over: Obama is the Democratic nominee for president," said Robert M. Shrum. "Now the decision for her is how she wants to end this."

Writing for Newsweek magazine online, columnist Jonathan Alter said Obama had not only proved himself the virtual nominee but removed doubts about his resilience. "The glass jaw that Hillary Clinton and John McCain thought they saw turned out to be an illusion," Alter wrote. "In the jingle of the old Timex watch ads, he took a licking and kept on ticking."

The pronouncements built on earlier sentiments among political commentators. On March 21, Politico.com writers Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen took a particularly strong stand, writing that Clinton had "virtually no chance of winning."

The reporters concluded that Clinton was unlikely to win by large enough margins to overtake Obama in the delegate count and that superdelegates were almost certain not to overturn the judgment of elected delegates. Those who believed in a Clinton comeback scenario, the Politico.com scribes wrote, were "living on another planet."

Although Clinton may continue to campaign for some time, that does not necessarily mean she believes she still has a shot at the nomination, wrote Jonathan Stein on a blog for Mother Jones, the liberal magazine.

Stein imagined several scenarios, including one in which Clinton continues to raise money to pay off campaign debts and to rehabilitate her image among party faithful displeased by her aggressive attacks on Obama.

Speaking on Fox News, conservative commentator William Kristol was already putting Clinton's bid in the rear-view mirror.

"I think she would accept the vice presidency," said Weekly Standard Editor Kristol, although many other commentators previously have rejected the idea Clinton would take the No. 2 spot. "I think Obama almost has to ask her."

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james.rainey@latimes.com

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