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The Hillary Clinton endgame watch begins in earnest

June 3, 2008 |  9:09 am

Over the next 8 hours, or 24 hours, or perhaps longer, a new Hillary Clinton watch will be underway -- when will she, once and for all and without a doubt, fold her tent in the Democratic presidential race?

Apparently it won't be tonight, when at some yet-to-be-determined time she speaks to supporters gathered at  Baruch College in Manhattan to mark the final two contests in the primary season (South Dakota and Montana).

An initial frenzy of speculation about what she will say at that gathering was set off by an Associated Press story this morning that led with this: "Hillary Rodham Clinton will concede Tuesday night that Barack Obama has the delegates to secure the Democratic nomination, campaign officials said, effectively ending her bid to be the nation's first female president."

That prompted a curt statement from the Clinton campaign: "The AP story is incorrect. Senator Clinton will not concede the nomination this evening."

The back-and-forth may simply be a matter of semantics, sparked in part by the story's use of the verb "concede."

With the combination of delegates Obama will pick up in today's two votes and the continued -- and likely accelerated -- flow of superdelegates into his corner, he may well be able to claim he has reached the magic number of 2,118 needed to declare that he has secured the nomination. And Clinton herself may well acknowledge that (maybe even in her remarks tonight).

But as Clinton has noted time and again since Obama staked out a clear lead in the delegate hunt more than two months ago, the delegates -- all of them, the elected ones and the appointed ones -- can change their minds up to the moment they cast a ballot at the party convention this August in Denver.

Such changes of committment are unlikely to happen, as the Clinton forces well know. But given every signal the candidate has sent up to now, it's also unlikely she would choose tonight -- when matters will still be in a slight state of flux -- to officially end her a quest for the White House that she kicked off in January, 2007.

Even the third paragraph in the AP story, basically overlooked in the burst of attention the piece generated, says: "The former first lady will stop short of formally suspending or ending her race in her speech in New York City."

So when will that happen?

Let's simply yield to Clinton strategist Harold Ickes, who said on MSNBC: "She will say what she says when she says it."

-- Don Frederick