Monday, January 7, 2008


It’s come to this. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the tough! tested! experienced! battle-heartened! inside-the-Beltway politico ready to be President of the United States had a little … moment today, in front of God, the press and the citizens of New Hampshire. Speculation has already started as to what kind of pivot point in the 2008 campaign it was: the first sign of Hillary revealing a needed human vulnerability in her machine-like drive to the Democratic nomination — or the first evidence of desperation in her so-far fruitless bid to derail the ascendant rival campaign of Barack Obama.

It happened in the hours before the first actual primary in the 2008 campaign, and just days after Clinton was soundly thumped in the Iowa caucuses.

Clinton was making a twelfth-hour appeal for support as she spoke on the eve of the state's primary, with a plurality of the polls showing her trailing Obama by almost double digits. It was part of the same appeal that, earlier in the day, had her campaign’s leadership calling her big-money donors, asking for, well, more big money (calls no doubt fueled by talk in some media outlets that, astonishingly, the Clinton campaign faced the prospect of running out of money before the expected delegate cornucopia of Super Tuesday in February).

Clinton's eyes welled up and her voice broke repeatedly while talking about her campaign with voters at the Cafe Espresso in Portsmouth, N.H. One sympathetic soul asked how she kept going in the relentless, front-loaded campaign. "It's not easy. It's not easy," she said.

"And I couldn't do it if I just didn't, you know, passionately believe it was the right thing to do," she said, voice cracking. "I just don't want to see us fall backward as a nation. ... "I mean, this is very personal for me. Not just political. I see what's happening. We have to reverse it."

The moment subsided fairly quickly, in under a minute, and there was no actual waterworks from the former first lady’s eyes. But Clinton was clearly near some brief personal precipice.

ABC News got the video … then Fox ... and the Information Age being what it is, that was that.

The Huffington Post screamed the news on its home page in a splash of verbiage and video that made you wonder how HuffPost would handle the Second Coming. And not surprisingly, the site’s bloggers weighed in, indicating some of the different ways voters could look at this spin-proof, misty moment.

Abdiel: Clinton had a mother moment -- and I actually found it refreshing. Up until now, I saw Clinton as a person methodically practicing an academic exercise. Now I'm more inclined to believe that she really DOES care -- that's something new. Didn't see that one coming.

Misterbone: Weird. Did we ever see this emotion even in the darkest days of the Lewinsky scandal? I have no issue with a touch of emotion, especially from a woman, but puh-lease, this is not genuine Hillary at all. She would NEVER let her guard down before the cameras...unless it was premeditated.

Rockyroad: Hillary had better watch out . . . she's becoming a joke. Just as adopting a Southern accent when addressing Southern audiences is cringe-worthy and patronizing, so is manufacturing crocodile tears to engender the empathy of women. As a strong, effective professional woman raised in the South, I find her tactics disingenuous, hypocritical, slimy and just plain offensive. She fails to demonstrate the qualities of leader.

No question about where John Edwards stands. The former senator from North Carolina, and Clinton’s other serious nomination rival, wasn’t buying it. "I think what we need in a commander-in-chief is strength and resolve, and presidential campaigns are tough business, but being president of the United States is also tough business,” he told the Wall Street Journal at a press gaggle in Laconia, N.H.

The Clinton campaign has been having major concerns about Obama since the Iowa debacle. Mike Allen and Ben Smith, of the Politico, noted how a planned negative campaign had been scuttled in the wake of fears of something they couldn’t control:

“The senator’s aides concluded that negative advertising would not work in the compressed time frame between Iowa and New Hampshire, adding to their worries about their ability to change a media and political environment that is embracing Obama as a historic figure. The campaign also worries that fallout from an all-out attack on Obama could harm Clinton’s plans to turn the Democratic race into a grueling marathon."

This is what’s facing Hillary Clinton right now: coming up with a campaign strategy that addresses the chance of someone else’s inevitability, dealing with a juggernaut that she's not a part of. She said early in the campaign that she’d never even considered the idea that she wouldn’t be nominated. Never crossed her mind.

Hillary Clinton may yet prevail. The delegate-rich event of Super Tuesday, Feb. 5, could be expected to boost her delegate count handsomely. And for however well Obama is doing now, some kind of deflation can probably be forecast for his campaign — maybe if no other reason than to cultivate a sense of drama in a campaign robbed of much of that by a ruthlessly abbreviated schedule.

The polling places in New Hampshire open shortly, and the first real quadrennial canvass of the national mood will get under way. Whether Clinton wins or loses, she’ll leave the state smarter by one truth, of both life and politics:

The only inevitable thing is disappointment.

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