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Why bother voting? Coronate Clinton now

December 13, 2007 |  3:02 am

Hillary Clinton's state poll numbers are heading south for the winter. Barack Obama reaped a publicity, fundraising, volunteer and poll bonanza over the weekend with his Oprah offensive. There are reports of internal Clinton staff dissension. The Republicans didn't even mention her in their debate yesterday.

One of her chief financial bundlers has been indicted. She continues stonewalling over release of her first lady papers which would -- or perhaps would not -- support her claim of sufficient experience to become chief executive. Two Iowa staffers got canned for forwarding e-mails alleging Obama is Muslim. She got caught planting questions at a public forum.

With precise Clintonian calculation, her New Hampshire co-chair went blabbing about Obama's past drug use yesterday, saying he feared Republicans would make it an election issue next year but actually doing that himself right now. Gee, must have been a slip of the tongue.

Her popular husband keeps talking about himself on the campaign trail and stepping all over her campaign's messages and making corrections that dominate another day's news and then claiming, typically, that the press misconstrued what he said. After an emergency planning meeting in Chicago, she's pumping more staff into Iowa, where Obama is so well organized, and even took her mother there on the campaign trail.

All the while reminding us of the soapy, sloppy diversions from the past Clinton years that she proposes to bring back. 

Besides getting the endorsement of that faded songstress, the good news for Hillary Clinton these days is her negative rankings are steady -- very high but steady.

And yet, according to a revealing Times story today by Peter Nicholas with contributions from Dan Morain, the candidate told a private crowd in a closed fundraiser at a Sacramento restaurant the other night that it's only a matter of time until she wins the nomination.

The race, she told her audience on an audio recording obtained by The Times, "is all going to be over by Feb. 5." She may be behind now in Iowa or even, and even in New Hampshire instead of way ahead ...

... and ahead in South Carolina, though maybe slipping some after the Oprah onslaught. But Clinton already has her eyes on California. She told the crowd, which reportedly dumped another $300,000 into her coffers, that she was really going to need the state's support after she won the nomination.

"The state is critical," she said, "not only to my victory for the nomination, but for the general election." So she still thinks she's the inevitable victor.

California primary voters go to the polls that crucial Tuesday, Feb. 5, along with voters in 21 other states. But Clinton pointed out that absentee ballots start going out tomorrow and she told her Sacramento donors that "more people will have voted absentee by the middle of January than will have voted in New Hampshire, Iowa and a lot of other places combined."

According to people who've attended both her forums and Obama's rallies, hers are just that, soporific forums. His, as anyone could see last weekend on C-SPAN, are energized rallies with screams and hundreds of cellphone flashes going off to capture the moment. She's so controlled, she does not talk to the press. Obama does regularly. And the coverage reflects that accessibility.

As late as it seems after all these months of campaigning, it's still early. Polls show upwards of half the Democrats remain undecided. But if she loses Iowa or wins only narrowly, how long can Clinton keep talking inevitability? Will she have to become the second Clinton comeback kid?

-- Andrew Malcolm

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