- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton came to the end of a grueling marathon race for the presidency last night, crossing the primary finish line just behind Sen. Barack Obama in a historic contest that brought her closer to the nomination than any other American woman before her.

Demonstrating political cunning, endurance and determination throughout a punishing gauntlet of caucuses and primaries, the two-term New York senator earned respect even from many of her detractors for refusing to drop out of the race near the end when the delegate math showed she could not catch up to her faster and stronger rival.

She had became a heroic icon to the millions of admirers who saw her as their best hope of electing a woman as president in their lifetimes and said she owed it to her supporters to remain in the race until the bitter end.

Mrs. Clinton entered the race as the almost prohibitive front-runner, flush with campaign money, supported by the best Democratic strategist and campaigner in the country - her husband, Bill Clinton - and declaring she was “ready to lead on Day One.”

The Democrats’ front-loaded primary calendar favored the best-known candidate in the field, and the race was supposed to be all but over by early February, but the primary wrestling match lasted longer than anyone predicted, quickly turning into a two-candidate race as the lesser known, first-term senator from Illinois proved a skillful orator and campaigner who inspired Democrats and began climbing in the polls.

When the 46-year-old Mr. Obama won the Iowa caucuses Jan. 3, he became an overnight phenomenon, and Mrs. Clinton suddenly knew she was in the political fight of her life. She retooled her campaign, sharpened her campaign rhetoric and went on the attack, decisively beating Mr. Obama in the New Hampshire primary.

The race took on all of the attributes of a heavyweight prizefight , with Mr. Obama ripping off a string of nearly a dozen primary victories in the smaller states after a critical win in South Carolina. But Mrs. Clinton kept on slugging back with strategic victories in the big states with New York, California, Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania, saying this proved her claim to be the stronger candidate.

Both candidates suffered from major controversies and campaign blunders. Mrs. Clinton’s tale of dodging sniper fire in Bosnia turned out to be made up of whole cloth, reviving doubts about her honesty and her political baggage from the Clinton years. She had to rein in Mr. Clinton, whose temper tantrums and ill-timed remarks often overshadowed her candidacy.

Near the end, she reeled off stunning victories in West Virginia, Kentucky and Puerto Rico, outpolling her opponent among blue-collar workers, women and Hispanics, but she was never able to close the delegate gap Mr. Obama opened earlier in the race.

Their campaign debates became a long-running road show, as each of them slugged it out on policy issues, though there were few major policy differences between them. When Mr. Obama complained in one debate about Mr. Clinton’s distortions about his record, Mrs. Clinton snapped back, “I’m here. He’s not.”

In the end, the contest came down to Mrs. Clinton playing to her experience in the White House and her policy-making role and Mr. Obama’s call for ending Washington’s political polarization and promising “change you can believe in.”

As superdelegates began declaring their support for Mr. Obama last night, giving him enough votes to clinch the nomination, Mrs. Clinton was telling her supporters she was willing to be his running mate if it would help the Democrats win the White House. “I’m open to it,” she said in a conference call with supporters.

Whether as the vice presidential nominee or as a senator campaigning for candidates in the fall, Mrs. Clinton has made it clear she planned to play a major role in the 2008 election one way or another.

As the final votes were being counted in Montana and South Dakota, the primaries had finally come to an end, but for her, it seemed, the general election campaign was just beginning.

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