PRUDEN: The corpse still won’t lie down

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Barack Obama’s loyal legion tried. The story the boys on the bus want is for Hillary to throw in her crying towel today, at last the last day of the primaries. The symmetry and poetry of it all would bring a tear to any scribe’s eye. Everyone is eager to pop the corks on the bubbly.

Hillary can laugh last tonight even if, as expected, Democrats in South Dakota and Montana give their hearts, hands and votes to the man whose camp followers call Precious. (Some of them, to be even more respectful, call him Mr. Precious.) She has only to stay in the race, such as it has come to, to turn the poetry to doggerel, at least for one more day.

All day yesterday the gossips, bloggers and other blowhards buzzed with the news that the last dog had died, that it was time to put out the cat, dim the light in the hall and bank the fire in the cookstove. The worker bees were told to turn in their final expense accounts, stuff their stale underwear in their briefcases, buy one final ticket home and gather tonight at Appomattox Court House for the ritual obsequies.

Even Bubba, who try as he might can’t restrain himself when he finds an opportunity to talk about “Big Me,” wandered off message with a mournful valedictory or maybe it was a benediction at a whistlestop somewhere out in the Badlands. Naturally it was all about him. “I want to say,” he said, “that this may be the last day I’m ever involved in a campaign of this kind. I thought I was out of politics, till Hillary decided to run. But it has been one of the greatest honors of my life to go around and campaign for her for president.” He stifled himself just before saying, “You won’t have Bill Clinton to kick around anymore.” Somewhere out in the graveyard at San Clemente a ghost, barely recognizable behind a fierce 5 o’clock shadow, chuckled with a little appreciation.

The Hillary campaign tried manfully, or maybe it was womanfully, to stanch the bleeding from the constant cuts of the correspondents who have been trying to send a customer to the mortician for weeks. Harold Ickes, one of her senior liege men, said the campaign was still hard at work trying to persuade various superdelegates that Hillary, not Barack Obama, would be the stronger candidate in November. Bubba’s lugubrious benediction did not impress Mr. Ickes. “We do not believe that by midnight [Tuesday] either candidate will have the new magic number [of committed delegates].” That number is now 2,118, and Mr. Obama is still 43 short. Staffers were told to “come home” only because there are no more primaries to send them to, and they might as well watch the returns from home as from Butte and Rapid City, as lively and amusing as those places may be.

Mark Aronchick, one of Hillary’s chief fundraisers, said he was continuing to call every superdelegate he knows. It takes a courageous Samaritan to swim to a sinking ship, and late yesterday, in fact, two new superdelegates one from New York and one from Louisiana announced they would support Hillary.

Hillary’s insoluble problem is that the superdelegates need no persuasion that she would be the stronger candidate. They know she would be, but try as they might they can’t think of anything to do about it. The party’s wise men understand very well how difficult it will be to find a credible route to the 269 electoral votes their man must find to make Michelle proud of her country again. Their dilemma is that party suicide, which is almost never permanent, is more survivable than throwing Barack Obama under the bus, where he would join the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn, Louis Farrakhan, Father Pfleger, his grandmother and the entire congregation of Trinity United Church of Christ. It’s a big bus but it’s getting crowded under there.

The party bigs understand that race will be what the campaign of ‘08 will be all about, a constant scramble of offenses taken, apologies offered, some accepted and some not, an endless succession of charge and countercharge, recrimination and retaliation. Still, losing to John McCain would hurt less than trying to win with the white lady.

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