Still After the Holy Grail

By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, May 20, 2008

MAYSVILLE, Ky. Black Knight: "I move for no man." King Arthur: "So be it." (Chops off knight's left arm). Black Knight: " 'Tis but a scratch."

It's Day 13 of the Clinton Campaign Death Watch, nearly two weeks since Tim Russert declared Barack Obama the Democratic winner.

When last we caught up with our heroine, Hillary Clinton's plight was compared to the Monty Python routine in which a pet-shop owner insists that a dead parrot is still alive. Clinton loyalists disputed the comparison, while some scholars searched the literature and proposed a different Pythonian model: the Black Knight, who valiantly defends his bridge after losing all four of his limbs.

So let us return to brave Knight Clinton. On Tuesday night, Obama will clinch the majority of regular delegates for the Democratic nomination; he's also pulled ahead in superdelegates and secured John Edwards's endorsement. But Clinton duels on.

The woman who would restore the reign of the Clintons is here in a high school gym that proclaims itself to be "Home of the Lady Royals." She enters the room to Journey's "Don't Stop Believin' ": "Some will win, some will lose/Some are born to sing the blues/And the movie never ends/It goes on and on and on and on."

"We're here in a gym," Clinton correctly observes. "It's not enough to play defense. We need to score." But how? She takes a shot. "More people have voted for me than have voted for my opponent," she says, adding in Michigan, where Obama wasn't on the ballot.

She shoots again, this time using the unreal conditional: "If we had the same rules as the Republicans, I would be the nominee right now." She rebounds and fires another: "The states I have won total 300 electoral votes. My opponent has won states totaling 217 electoral votes." If only electoral votes were awarded in the primaries.

* * *

King Arthur: "A scratch? Your arm's off!"

Black Knight: "I've had worse . . . Come on, you pansy." (Arthur chops off the knight's other arm).

In Oregon on Sunday, Obama packed in more than 70,000 people for a rally. In the gym in Maysville, there are 400. The demographics reflect Clinton's base in this race: mostly white, mostly women, mostly old.

"It's become more or less a retirement community," Jimmy Meadows, 81, says of his town of 9,000. He's sitting in the bleachers, walking stick at his side. Nearby is a group of women from a nursing home. In a wheelchair pushed by a nurse, Hazel Carpenter, 86 and hooked to oxygen, proudly displays her new "Hillary" autograph. Can Clinton still win? "I sure hope so," says Carpenter.

But the old folks know how to rally for their candidate. Martha Lane Collins, a former Kentucky governor, leads the crowd in a raucous cheer of "H-I-L-L-A-R-Y" -- until a loud pop from the sound system causes many in the audience to jump. The sound continues to be uncooperative, and another warm-up speaker asks the crowd to give Clinton "a great big [inaudible]."

* * *

King Arthur: "You've got no arms left . . ."

Black Knight: "It's only a flesh wound." (Continues kicking Arthur, who chops off knight's right leg.)

The ruckus from Clinton's senior supporters is audible backstage, where the candidate is giving satellite interviews to TV stations in Oregon, which, along with Kentucky, holds its primary Tuesday. Most slip in reminders about her status in the race.

"I'm sure that you've seen the pictures of the great big crowd of 75,000 turning out for Barack Obama in Portland yesterday," says one.

"He usually draws bigger crowds, but more people have voted for me," she explains.

"Some would say it's mathematically impossible for you to overtake Senator Obama," he continues.

"The states that I've already won total 300 electoral votes," she responds. "Barack's won states totaling 217 electoral votes."

Another Oregon interviewer points out that "Obama may try to declare himself the nominee if he wins Oregon."

"The states I've won total 300 electoral votes. The states Barack's won total 217 electoral votes."

* * *

Black Knight: "The Black Knight always triumphs!" (Arthur chops off Black Knight's remaining leg, then crosses the bridge). "Running away, eh? You yellow bastards! Come back here and take what's coming to you. I'll bite your legs off!"

Clinton's motorcade takes her to the coal town of Prestonburg. Along the route, a gas station lists regular unleaded at $3.96 9/10 . A sign in front of a church offers encouragement: "We are too blessed to be depressed." It is a long drive, past modest municipalities such as Lowmansville, and when she emerges in Prestonburg, Clinton has a new accent.

She's talking about "helpin' folks" and "puttin' 3 million Americans to work" and "fixin' up this country" and "changin' the tax code" and "lookin' for a way" to fix the energy crisis. "Ah'm convinced there's a lotta new jobs," she says.

Clinton has a new reason to stay in the race -- President Bush's former chief strategist. "Just today . . . one of the TV networks released an analysis by, of all people, Karl Rove, saying I am the stronger candidate," she says of research by Rove's firm showing Clinton doing better than Obama against McCain, based on the averaging of state opinion polls.

Clinton, speaking in front of the porch of a modest home, singles out a sign held by a woman in a wheelchair: "I am 89. We need a woman in the White House in my lifetime."

The candidate is not about to let her octogenarian supporter down. "There is no way that this is gonna end anytime soon," vows Knight Clinton, standing her ground at the bridge.

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