It's All Uphill From Here

Clinton, ignoring her campaign's losses in four states the previous weekend, stayed upbeat during a visit to the National Council of Negro Women.
Clinton, ignoring her campaign's losses in four states the previous weekend, stayed upbeat during a visit to the National Council of Negro Women. (By Carolyn Kaster -- Associated Press)
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 18, 2008

It was 15 degrees outside on a wind-whipped Pennsylvania Avenue as Hillary Clinton, smile firmly fixed in place, made an early-morning stop for a primary she didn't have a prayer of winning.

Inside the high-ceilinged office of the National Council of Negro Women, as 20 journalists looked on, Sen. Clinton sounded almost wistful last Monday as she noted the racial and gender aspect of her contest against Barack Obama. "One of us will go on to make history," she said, before adding that she believed she would be the one to make it.

Left unspoken -- but very much on the minds of the modest press contingent -- was that she had just lost four states to Obama, had been forced to lend her operation $5 million and had dumped her campaign manager. And no upbeat talk by the candidate was going to change that story line.

The media floodgates opened after Obama swept last week's primaries in the District, Maryland and Virginia. Never mind that the two Democratic candidates remain close in the delegate count, or that Clinton has been described as doomed once before, in New Hampshire. She is drowning in a sea of negative coverage.

The New York Daily News said "the once-mighty Clinton campaign is beginning to feel like the last days of Pompeii." The New York Times quoted an unnamed superdelegate backing Clinton as saying that if she doesn't win Ohio and Texas next month, "she's out." The Washington Post said "even many of her supporters worry" that the nomination "could soon begin slipping out of her reach." Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Dick Polman likened her campaign to the Titanic. A Slate headline put it starkly: "So, Is She Doomed?"

Clinton spokesman Doug Hattaway, citing the back-and-forth nature of the contest, says the campaign isn't worried about the spate of Hillary-in-trouble pieces. "That may emerge as a national story line, but we don't think it influences voters on the ground," he says. "The 'momentum' story is just not all that real. People aren't led around by the nose by the national media narrative." Of course, voters in primary states also watch the networks and read national news online.

Fueling the sense that the former first lady is sinking is increasingly sharp criticism from liberal columnists who are embracing Obama, while few pundits are firmly in Clinton's corner. The Nation, the country's largest liberal magazine, has endorsed Obama. Markos "Kos" Moulitsas, the most prominent liberal blogger, voted for Obama in the California primary and has been ridiculing Clinton's campaign.

New York Times columnist Frank Rich wrote that the Clinton machine is "ruthless" and the candidate "crippled by poll-tested corporate packaging that markets her as a synthetic product leeched of most human qualities."

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen said Clinton has "an inability to admit fault or lousy judgment" and made an "ugly lurch to the political right" in backing a 2005 bill that would have made flag burning illegal (which, as he later noted, Obama also endorsed).

Arianna Huffington, one of the Net's leading Clinton-bashers, has written of "Hillary's hypocrisy running neck and neck with her cynicism." New Republic Editor-in-Chief Marty Peretz posted an essay last week titled "The End of BillaryLand Is on Its Way. Rejoice!"

For much of the campaign, Clinton, who seemed wary of the press during her eight years in the White House, limited her contact with reporters. She would go days without taking media questions. But since losing Iowa she has become far more accessible, in the tradition of trailing candidates who suddenly realize they need the exposure.

Her campaign can still be inconsiderate toward reporters, sometimes not sending out the next day's schedule until 2 a.m., making it impossible even to plan what time to get up. But tensions have eased as Clinton has held more frequent news conferences.

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