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Why Barack Obama fears a sudden end to Hillary Clinton's campaign

May 9, 2008 |  1:52 am

"The Democratic race now moves to West Virginia," Jay Leno noted during his monologue Thursday night on "The Tonight Show." "Today, Hillary Clinton claimed she always wanted to be a coal miner. But those dreams were daDemocratic presidential strategist Tad Devine says the worst thing that could happen to presidential candidate Barack Obama's campaign right now is for Hillary Clinton to withdraw as Obama might still lose several primariesshed when she was forced to attend Wellesley and Yale."

The political focus now does, indeed, shift to the Mountaineer State for its primary there next Tuesday. And then Kentucky and Oregon and Puerto Rico down to the very end in Montana on June 3 when springtime there is just weeks away.

The Times' not-so-old political pro, Mark Z. Barabak, had an interesting conversation with another not-so-old political pro, Tad Devine, a Democratic strategist who cut his presidential political teeth in the 1980 Jimmy Carter campaign. Later he worked in the unsuccessful presidential efforts of Al Gore and John Kerry. Devine is not involved with any candidate this time around.

But the way he sees the inevitable delegate math in favor of Barack Obama and the current Democratic race ending is, counterintuitively, the worst thing that could happen to the Illinois senator in....

this marathon and often bitter struggle between the two Democratic survivors is what so many party members are already unthinkingly clamoring for: Clinton to drop out right now. ASAP.

Why?

Because with her name still on the ballots, she'd be very likely to go on and win in West Virginia anyway, even as a dropout. And maybe Kentucky too, given the demographics in both places. And possibly Puerto Rico as well.

How would that look if at the end of the Democratic race the winning candidate with clearly the most delegates and popular votes went down to defeat against a candidate who isn't even in the contest anymore? Ouch! That would tend to overshadow his expected wins in Oregon and Montana.

In fact, although little noticed because the Republican race had long been over, Sen. John McCain, the presumptive GOP nominee, won his Pennsylvania primary with 73% of the vote. To be sure, thousands of Republicans crossed over to vote in the more interesting Democratic contest for whatever reason.

But put another way, the surefire Republican nominee lost about 27% of his own party's vote to a candidate who had long since dropped out (ex-Gov. Mike Huckabee) and a Republican rebel who never really had any chance of winning (Rep. Ron Paul).

"If [Obama] lost to a candidate who's withdrawn, that would hurt him a lot," says Devine. "And there's a good chance that could happen."

Better, he figures, for the former first lady to remain in the race a couple more weeks at least, as long as she recalibrates her rhetorical cannons at McCain and President Bush, instead of her party's new presumptive presidential candidate.

That would, of course, require at least a tacit admission of defeat by Clinton. Let's all hold our breath for that to happen.

Obama seems to recognize this. At a fundraiser in Washington's Union Station last night with cheese and crackers and fruits for a minimum $1,000, he told supporters, "The nomination doesn't take place in August -- it takes place until August."

-- Andrew Malcolm

Photo Credit: AP

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