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Hillary Clinton, speaking in Kentucky, has superdelegates in mind

May 20, 2008 |  7:30 pm

Hillary Clinton has indulged a taste for history of late. And that was on display tonight, as she claimed her overpowering victory in the Kentucky primary (while ignoring an expected defeat looming across Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton claims victory in Louisville in the Kentucky primary the country in Oregon).

Campaigning in West Virginia earlier this month, on her way to a huge primary win last Tuesday, she stressed that since 1916, no Democrat had won the White House without carrying the Mountain State.

This evening, in Louisville, she put forth a vaguer proposition. It has often been said, she asserted, that "as goes Kentucky, so goes the nation."

Frankly, that was a new one on us. But if it's so, that's bad news for Barack Obama. As we noted earlier, he would seem to have little chance to being competitive in Kentucky as the Democratic presidential nominee.

Kentucky has had a winning track record in recent decades -- the last time the Bluegrass State picked a loser in a White House contest was in 1960, when it backed Richard Nixon instead of John Kennedy.

A handful of other states can make comparable claims as bellwethers. Still, Clinton pointedly noted that her husband won Kentucky in both of his successful presidential races. And that helped frame the message in a victory speech that was directed more at Democratic superdelegates than the cheering throng in front of her.

After she spoke kind and gracious words about Sen. Ted Kennedy in the wake of the revelation that he suffers from a malignant brain tumor, after she touched upon her commitment to universal healthcare and ending the war in Iraq, after she made her now ritualistic pitch for cash by reciting her website, she got to what she and her aides see as the nub of the matter.

When the primary season wraps up on June 3 ...

... with contests in Montana and South Dakota, she insisted, neither she nor Obama will have reached the "magic number" of delegates needed to declare the nomination clinched. (In her formulation -- and this is essential to her cause -- that figure will be higher then the current 2,026 because some accommodation will have been made to seat delegates from the rogue states of Michigan and Florida).

At that point, she said, the party's superdelegates "will have a tough choice to make" in putting one contender over the top. And "tough" she implied, should be the guiding principle -- as in, who is likely to wage the toughest fight against Republican John McCain.

"Dream on," Hillary, most party heavyweights likely were muttering to themselves. But this we know -- she simply will not be nudged or cajoled out of the Democratic race until she's decided all is lost for her candidacy. And who knows when that may be; as she said in her speech, she plans to keep making her case -- "until we have a nominee, whoever she may be."

-- Don Frederick

Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images