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Hillary Clinton still shies from public congratulations

February 19, 2008 |  8:16 pm

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Maybe Hillary Clinton will call Barack Obama after she unwinds later tonight from her tough campaign day. Or maybe, as she did last Tuesday after getting waxed in the "Potomac primaries," she'll offer a public acknowledgment early Wednesday.

But once again, she's bound to call attention to what's become a habit -- she took the stage in Youngstown, Ohio, tonight just minutes after every cable network had called the race in Wisconsin for Obama and acted like those results just didn't exist. As if a primary in which she was hoping to steal a win -- or at least come close -- and thereby break her rival's hot streak of victories mattered not one whit.

[UPDATE -- Clinton aides report she called Obama and congratulated him after they both had exited from their respective rallies].

True, she began speaking when only the barest fraction of the raw vote had been reported. So a flat-out concession might not have been in order. But many will no doubt believe that a nod was in order; a recognition that the early count indicated it wasn't going her way and that Obama, again, had proved a worthy foe.

Clinton would have none ...

 

of that as she now gears up for what looms as do-or-die face offs on March 4 in Ohio and Texas. Instead, she immediately focused her fire on Obama.

"We can't just have speeches. We've got to have solutions," Clinton said as she launched into a lengthy critique of her rival. "While words matter, the best words in the world aren't enough unless you match them with action."

Perhaps one reason she quickly broached what has become her main argument against Obama -- a contention that clearly cut little ice in chilly Wisconsin -- was that she sensed her time in front of the cameras would be limited. Indeed, just a few minutes into her remarks, Obama began making his way to the podium at a rally in Houston.

Fox News and MSNBC cut to him -- and cut away from Clinton -- even before he got into the guts of his speech. CNN stayed with Clinton a bit longer, via split screen. But once Obama was rolling, her image and words were gone. (She later, almost poignantly, told the Ohio audience that they could count on her, even when "the speeches are over and the cameras are gone.")

Clinton and her supporters may express umbrage that Obama so flagrantly stepped on her appearance; that he didn't wait longer before claiming the spotlight. And courtesy questions may be raised about his disinclination to mention her as he claimed his Wisconsin win.

As it was, he clearly had her -- as well as presumed Republican presidential nominee John McCain -- on his mind. Increasingly knocked by both as long on inspiration but short on substance (McCain, in the evening's first speech, had pledged to make sure Americans "are not deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change") Obama responded with a 45-minute talk that touched on a laundry list of subjects -- lead-based toys from China, the No Child Left Behind education program, home foreclosures, the suffering in Darfur, to name but a few.

On this night, he truly got the last words in -- each of the cable networks stayed with him to the end.

-- Don Frederick

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