The Land of Bluegrass, Bourbon and Kool-Aid

By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, May 21, 2008

LOUISVILLE Suspend what you know, or think you know, about the Democratic presidential nomination, and picture yourself in the Marriott ballroom here for Hillary Clinton's Kentucky victory celebration.

The candidate is cruising to a landslide win in the state, after her 41-point drubbing of Barack Obama in West Virginia last week. The overflowing crowd of jubilant supporters chants "Hill-a-ry!" From here, the national coronation of Obama looks upside down.

"I'm going to keep making my case until we have a nominee," a beaming Clinton says, "no matter who she may be."

Could it be?

Our heads tell us no. Step out of the ballroom, turn on the cable news, and see: Obama is clinching a majority of the regular delegates to the Democratic convention tonight, on top of his growing lead in the superdelegates. Barring the unexpected, the nomination should soon be his.

And yet, take a sip of the Clinton Kool-Aid and listen to Bill Clinton explain how Obama's status as the presumptive nominee is a media fabrication.

"By their own admission it's been the most slanted press coverage in American history," he told a crowd Monday night in Lexington. The former president went on: "Every time you turn on the television and listen to one of the people dissing her, they all have a college degree, they've all got a good job, they've all got health care and they're having no trouble filling up their gas tank."

But why would it be in reporters' interests to declare the race over prematurely? Take a long draft from the cup of Kool-Aid; Hillary Clinton has the answer. "It does seem as though the press at least is not as bothered by the incredible vitriol that has been engendered by the comments by people who are nothing but misogynists," she told The Post's Lois Romano this week. Clinton detected a "deeply offensive" sexism in the media.

You are probably feeling a buzz from the Kool-Aid by now; savor the high while Bill Clinton lays out the case. "They've declared her dead more time than a cat's got lives," he told the Lexington crowd. He walked through her various wins and predicted that "she will have won a majority of the votes cast in all the states in spite of being outspent by something like $60 million. In every single electoral map I've seen, she is beating Senator McCain handily and she is the only Democrat who is doing that today."

At this point, doubt may be creeping back into your head. Doesn't Obama's money lead reflect his broader support? Isn't Clinton's popular-vote claim including Michigan, where Obama wasn't on the ballot, and excluding some caucus states where Obama had big wins? Relax, and take another sip. The former president has a rebuttal. "These people who are saying the delegate race is over are depending on the Democrats decapitating Florida and Michigan; that's the dumbest thing I've ever heard of in my entire life," he told a Louisville rally.

Quaff the magical potion, O ye of little faith, and stop by the whimsical Lynn's Paradise Cafe in Louisville, part restaurant and part novelty store. The Clintons visited supporters there Tuesday morning, weaving their way past bacon-flavored candy, phony noses, and concrete sculptures of a red lion, orange cow, purple gorilla, silver moose, blue frog and pink pig. ABC News's Ann Compton planted herself under a papier-mache tree, which dangled a plastic elephant, dinosaur and two roosters from its branches. Why, she asked the former president, does the popular vote make any difference?

"It shows more Democrats want her to be the nominee," he answered.

Take another dram of Kool-Aid and plunk down three quarters for Tuesday's Louisville Courier-Journal. Skip the front-page headline that says "Obama likely to cinch elected delegates" and go to the full-page ad on Page A8, bought by a San Francisco political action committee. "Not so fast," it begins. "Hillary's voice is OUR voice . . . We are the women of this nation."

Refill your cup with the sweet stuff and stop at the Starbucks in the Marriott lobby in Louisville, where Clinton's Kentucky chairman, Jerry Lundergan, was waiting for the victory party to start on Tuesday afternoon. "We're winning 90 to 10 in the mountains!" he exulted.

Maybe it's the Kool-Aid talking, but this kind of lopsided loss feels like a big problem for Obama. "It's gonna be fun tonight," announced Clinton's national chairman, Terry McAuliffe, standing nearby. And McAuliffe doesn't even need Kool-Aid. "I sip Bud," he confided.

Supporters were just entering the ballroom when, at the stroke of 7 p.m., CNN's Wolf Blitzer, on the projection screen, forecast "a dramatic win for Hillary Clinton . . . perhaps by 30 points." The gathering Clinton crowd was still cheering when CNN's Gloria Borger, at 7:05, reminded everybody that "the prospects are not great" for Clinton, and Donna Brazile mused: "Will it be enough? . . . I don't believe so."


Clinton fans at the Marriott, most of them women, displayed a defiant message for the cameras. "Yes, women can!" proclaimed one poster. "Yes she will!" said another.

Clinton gave a speech of triumph. "We're winning the popular vote!" she told the packed hall. "I'm told that more people have voted for me than for anybody who has ever run for the Democratic nomination."

"It's especially sweet tonight," Clinton said.

The Kentucky victory? Or the Kool-Aid?

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