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How Serious Is She?

Hillary Clinton said last night that “this race isn’t over.” But is she in it to win? Or only to maximize her potential bargaining leverage, satisfy her supporters, and keep her “I told you so” argument on the backburner for 2012? One way to find out is to see what she does in Oregon. She’s way behind there, and a big loss will wipe out whatever veneer of plausibility her campaign still has.

So if she really is determined to win, what should she do? Take a page from John McCain’s playbook and hammer Obama for voting for the much-reviled Bush-Cheney energy bill. That should play very well with super-liberal, super-Green Oregon voters.

Or she might re-run the “3 a.m.” ad with an update ripped from the headlines to point out Obama’s lack of foreign policy know-how. Alternatively, she could go back to quoting exit poll numbers, this time citing Obama’s shockingly poor West Virginia numbers. Maybe she could drop from airplanes the latest column by Maureen Dowd:

Obama is acting the diffident debutante, pretending not to care that he was given a raspberry by a state he will need in the fall. He was dismissed not only by the voters Hillary usually gets, but was also edged out in blocs that usually prefer him — the under-30 set, college graduates and affluent voters.

But somehow I expect that she won’t do any of these things, for fear of bringing down the wrath of the Democratic establishment and forever ruining her political future. If her dream of a comeback in 2012 is to play out, Obama must lose, but she can’t be seen as the cause.

That leaves her with her West Virginia “I’m in it for the little people” appeal, which won’t be much of a sell in Oregon. And so, I think, she will likely lose by a wide margin there. Then, in a few weeks, she will end the race (somehow, I predict, without “quitting,” a no-no in the Clinton household).

If she’s right and her continued presence does no obvious harm to Obama’s chances in the general election, everyone will kiss and make up. But if not, and she further smudges Obama’s luster in the next few weeks (for example, by beating him in a state she’s not “supposed to win”), no one in the Democratic party will be very happy.