This Is an Ex-Candidate

By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Customer: "Look, matey, I know a dead parrot when I see one, and I'm looking at one right now."

Pet-shop owner: "No, no he's not dead, he's -- he's resting! Remarkable bird, the Norwegian blue, isn't it, aye? Beautiful plumage!"

-- From "Monty Python's Flying Circus"

11:45 a.m., Melrose Hotel, Foggy Bottom: It's Day 7 of the Clinton Campaign Death Watch -- a full week since the official arbiter of the Democratic primary, Tim Russert, declared the campaign over and Barack Obama the nominee. Hillary Clinton's advisers continue to insist that the candidate's prospects are very much alive, but the press isn't buying it. Exhibit A: There are two press buses waiting at the hotel here for Clinton's trip to her victory rally in West Virginia, but the entire press contingent doesn't quite fill one. It isn't until the entourage arrives at Dulles Airport that Clinton aides learn that the second bus is still idling, empty, at the hotel.

If there is importance in the results of the primary in West Virginia, the press corps isn't letting on. During the security sweep at Dulles, some play Hacky Sack with a cigarette carton. Awaiting the candidate on the tarmac, two guys from CNN toss a football. Aboard the plane, one member of the press corps entertains his colleagues by flopping down the aisle on his belly, like a fish.

But Clinton, wearing a salmon-colored jacket and dark sunglasses, is all smiles as she boards the jet. She hugs and kisses her campaign chairman, Terry McAuliffe. Still grinning, she helps herself to a cracker with spread from the snack tray as the plane taxis to the runway. And why shouldn't she be happy? Within minutes, Clinton has crossed the Blue Ridge and is over the green hills of West Virginia, home of what she calls the "hardworking Americans, white Americans." This is Clinton Country.

Customer: "That parrot is definitely deceased, and when I purchased it not half an hour ago, you assured me that its total lack of movement was due to it being tired and shagged out following a prolonged squawk."

Pet-shop owner: "Well, he's, he's, ah, probably pining for the fiords."

2:57 p.m., Yeager Airport, Charleston, W.Va.: A steep descent brings Clinton's plane to Charleston's hilltop airport. After an appropriate wait, she steps from the plane and pretends to wave to a crowd of supporters; in fact, she is waving to 10 photographers underneath the airplane's wing. She pretends to spot an old friend in the crowd, points and gives another wave; in fact, she is waving at an aide she had been talking with on the plane minutes earlier.

On the way into town, she makes an unscheduled stop at an upscale farmers market, but about 30 Clinton supporters, several wearing AFSCME T-shirts and waving Clinton campaign signs, have

somehow gotten wind of it. Clinton works the crowd, signing autographs and making small talk ("Is that your dog?"). She makes her way past rows of geraniums and marigolds.

But even among the blooms, Clinton is reminded of her troubles. She stops at Ellen's Homemade Ice Cream and orders a scoop of espresso Oreo and a scoop of butter pecan. "Ooh, that looks good," she says after taking the confection, then pauses. "Now, let's see. Who's got my money?" asks the woman who has lent her campaign $11 million to keep it afloat. She laughs. "Where -- where'd they go, the people with my money?" Finally, two aides arrive to retire Clinton's dessert debt.

Customer: (Takes parrot from cage, bangs its head on counter, lets it drop to floor.) "Now, that's what I call a dead parrot."

Pet-shop owner: "No, he's stunned! . . . You stunned him, just as he was wakin' up! Norwegian blues stun easily, Major."

7:30 p.m., South Hall, Charleston Convention Center: The moment the polls close, the networks declare Clinton the winner of the primary. This is no surprise: Exit polls show a 2 to 1 margin for Clinton.

There is no television playing on the red-carpeted floor of the convention center, where all of 89 Clinton supporters have arrived so far. After a 12-minute delay, somebody thinks to turn on the TV in the hall, and the small group breaks into a chant: "It's not over."

Or is it? A week ago, Clinton won the Indiana primary by two percentage points -- and the media decreed that she had lost. Now she's trouncing Obama by double digits in West Virginia -- and nobody seems to care. This, no doubt, has something to do with the fact that she is trailing Obama in the popular vote, states won, pledged delegates and, now, superdelegates. Even Clinton loyalist James Carville calls Obama the likely nominee.

But Clinton aides press on in their effort to demonstrate life in her candidacy. At the Charleston victory celebration, McAuliffe charges up to the lectern. "Hillary Clinton is in this to the end," he tells the crowd. "She's going to Denver as the nominee!"

Customer: "He's not pining! He's passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! He's expired and gone to meet his maker! He's a stiff! Bereft of life, he rests in peace! . . . His metabolic processes are now history! He's off the twig! He's kicked the bucket, he's shuffled off his mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleeding choir invisible! This is an ex-parrot!"

9:06 p.m., still in the South Hall: The announcer has just introduced "the next president of the United States." And with the TV now turned off, it almost seems possible. The confetti guns are loaded and ready. The streamers hang from the ceiling. And the crowd -- now up to 500, all but about 10 of them white -- is rapturous as Clinton rebukes the "pundits and the naysayers."

"There are some who wanted to cut this race short!" Clinton says from the faux-wood lectern. They boo.

"I am more determined than ever to carry on this campaign," she says. They cheer.

"There are many who wanted to declare a nominee before the ballots were counted or even cast," she says. They boo.

"This race isn't over yet," she says. They cheer.

The sound system emits a loud screech of feedback. The confetti cannons fire.

See? She wasn't dead; she was just pining for the fiords.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company