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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Clinton's Next Moves

Marc Ambinder

As Hillary Clinton ponders her next move, she is finding that there is consensus within her inner-most circle about whether to stay in the race -- the answer is yes -- but no consensus about why, and for how long.

"A lot of us have been at this a long time, so we that the road is tougher after last night -- in part because people like Tim Russert declared it so -- but we are still working and this campaign is not over," one of her top strategists said. "This morning, she got up and got herself to West Virginia after arriving home at 2:30 a.m."

Another strategist, Harold Ickes, has told colleagues that he does not believe that she should think about dropping out until, at the very least, the questions of Florida and Michigan are resolved. Terry McAuliffe, the campaign's chairman, has urged Clinton to stay and fight on no matter what.

Jerry Crawford, Clinton's Iowa campaign chair and a long-time family friend, put the exit date in June, at the earliest. "It will be much easier to unify the party after June if people don't feel like their candidate was pushed out of the race by the press or by surrogates," he said. "And then the two of them should get together and form a unity ticket."

Others believe that Clinton risks considerable damage to Obama's efforts to unify the party if she refuses to quit, and pronto.

"At this point, it's no longer about her; it's about the party," said one of Clinton's top fundraisers. "I think she should drop out now. If not now, then within the next few days." The fundraiser, who requested anonymity in order to speak frankly, had previously advised Clinton to stay until the superdelegates had made up their minds. The fundraiser, who has known the Clinton family for years, pointed to Bill Clinton's puffy, tearful face as evidence that the family's chief political strategist knew that the end was near.

Two campaign advisers said that they believe Clinton should stay in the race through May 20 so she can depart the race in the glow of a solid victory in Kentucky. Then they believe she should bow out. The thinking behind this advice is that Clinton's supporters, particularly women, would find it easier to accept Obama as their nominee if they were satisfied that Clinton was not pressured to drop out and had exhausted every conceivable opportunity to make her case.

Officially, the campaign is countenancing no talk about dropping out.

"We are not going to concede any votes," strategist Howard Wolfson said on a conference call today.

Meetings to discuss the campaign's field operations in Kentucky, West Virginia and Puerto Rico went on as planned, as did discussions with the Democratic National Committee about a joint fundraising agreement.

Clinton's fundraising team called donors in the Washington,D.C. area and urged them to attend an open-press event tonight, hoping for a show of force. Clinton added a campaign stop in West Virginia, during which she said that "Next Tuesday will be one of the most important elections of this nominating process."

Later, in Washington, D.C. Clinton kept to a strict schedule of meetings with superdelegates, greeting them one-by-one in a conference room at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The campaign did not immediately disclose the identities of the superdelegates, although Reps. Harry Mitchell (D-AZ) and Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) were seen enterting the building while Clinton was there. (Stupak's office told CBS News that Stupak was there on other business and did not meet Clinton.) Clinton told reporters waiting outside that she discussed with several superdelegates the seating of Florida and Michigan.

Officials said that the campaign had several millions dollars on hand, which is enough to run a full flight of television advertisements in West Virginia and in Kentucky.

They would not disclose how much money was raised overnight. Clinton has lent herself a total of $6,425,000 during the past four weeks, with the latest $425,000 check being written on Sunday.

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