In a telephone press conference Wednesday, the Clinton campaign firmly reiterated its intention to keep seeking the Democratic Presidential nomination, spinning both her striking loss in North Carolina and her slender win in Indiana yesterday as positive developments -- while also appearing to admit that she is not going to win a majority of elected delegates even if Michigan and Florida's delegations are counted -- and parsing yesterday's primary results in starkly racial terms that are likely to exacerbate the tensions of the contest and her increasingly significant troubles reaching out to minority voters.
The conference, called by Clinton Communications Director Howard Wolfson to discuss "the state of the race," was also attended by Geoff Garin, chief Clinton strategist, and Phil Singer, the campaign's Deputy Communications Director.
Wolfson seemed to rule out any possibility of Clinton suspending her campaign in light of Tuesday's primaries. Asked whether there had been any internal discussions about not going forward, an unidentified voice loudly replied, "NO!" When a reporter asked who had just spoken, Wolfson replied, "That was my declarative self." Several times during the conference, campaign spokesmen reiterated their belief that the drawn-out primary was a good thing for the Democratic Party and that voters want the campaign to continue. Apparently moving not the finish line but the starting line, Wolfson also described next week's West Virginia primary as "the first key test" of the campaign's momentum.
Putting the best face on a day that nearly all commentators are calling a significant win for Obama, Garin described the results in Indiana and North Carolina as "an outcome about which we feel very, very good." Indiana, where Clinton won by a scant 51 percent - 49 percent margin, "represents significant progress for Senator Clinton and .... is a good victory under challenging circumstances" because her narrow victory there was "the first time ... that Senator Clinton has come from behind to victory," according to Garin. And North Carolina, where Clinton lost to Obama by 14 points, "represent[s] progress for us," he said, underlining the campaign's focus demographic, because Clinton improved her performance with "the white electorate" compared to polls taken two weeks before the election. Wolfson, too, put a positive spin on yesterday's results, saying that Indiana and North Carolina were "two states we were supposed to lose" but "we won one." According to Wolfson, although Indiana was a near-tie, "Senator Clinton [was] making up ground in Indiana, and Senator Obama losing ground."
The Clinton campaign's analysis of yesterday's results was largely based on exit polling and a careful parsing along demographic -- mainly racial -- lines that seemed to track the campaign's recent strategy of dispatching Bill Clinton to speak to small groups of rural, almost exclusively white, Southern voters. Wolfson emphasized Clinton's support among white voters, saying, "in North Carolina among the white electorate we started even... and ended up with a 24 point advantage with that part of the electorate." Comparing Clinton's relative performance among white voters in North Carolina yesterday with her weaker performance with white voters in Virginia earlier in the race, Garin said: "Virginia is the closest white electorate in the country to the electorate that participated in North Carolina. We lost the white electorate in Virginia... [but] ended up with a significant vote" among whites in North Carolina. Garin continued by emphasizing other demographic groups that Clinton is targeting, saying, "Taking the two states together, Senator Clinton continues to run very strongly among people who are likely to be the swing voters in the November election... non-college-educated voters, seniors, Catholics...."
At points, the Clinton representatives' demographic parsing bordered on surreal. Wolfson seemed to imply that gasoline prices are primarily a white issue, suggesting that Clinton's proposal for a gas tax "holiday" had helped her with white voters and promising that she would continue urging that proposal on the stump. In response to a pair of questions about whether African Americans would support Clinton in the general election, Wolfson repeatedly referred to Obama's "passionate supporters," seeming to conflate the two.
In terms of campaign strategy, the Clinton camp almost expressly admitted that her presidential aspirations now lie in the hands of Democratic Party operatives, including the party committees that will determine the fate of the currently disqualified Michigan and Florida delegations and the undeclared superdelegates who theoretically could still give the nomination to Clinton. Although he described Clinton as focused on the last few primaries, Wolfson -- in terms redolent of Bill Clinton's infamous "it all depends on what the definition of 'is' is" -- admitted that she likely would not win the majority of elected delegates: "We expect that when we get to June 3rd we'll have a close result. It raises the question of how close is close."
Phil Singer seemed to admit that even Michigan and Florida are not likely to alter her probable loss in both the elected-delegate and total-delegate races, saying that seating both states would at best bring Clinton to "fewer than a hundred elected delegates, excuse me, total delegates" of the nomination. Nevertheless, Clinton is urging not only that delegations from those two states be seated, but seated in full (and without Obama receiving any delegates at all from Michigan, where his name was not on the ballot). Wolfson described Clinton's performance in both states' primaries -- in which neither candidate overtly campaigned -- as "significant victories" and disagreed with suggestions that the delegations be seated at half-strength as a penalty for knowingly advancing their primaries earlier than Democratic Party rules allowed: "Our feeling is that the delegations should be seated in full, that they should have full votes" "commensurate with the results from those primaries." Clinton also plans to keep making an electability argument to superdelegates, including in a meeting with undeclared superdelegates planned for Wednesday night.
Wolfson also was asked about Clinton's financial ability to continue the campaign. He described Clinton as having raised "an awful lot of money" but admitted Obama is doing the same: "We had a very good fundraising month last month, but Senator Obama had a better fundraising month." He acknowledged that Clinton had loaned her own campaign $5 million in April, another $1 million on May 1, and $425,000 on May 5. He declined to rule out the possibility of Clinton making additional loans to keep her campaign afloat.
Wolfson declined to speculate about the possibility of a "unity" Obama-Clinton ticket, calling it premature and stating, "we have not had any conversations with the Obama campaign about such a ticket" and "I have not heard her evince any interest in such a ticket."