Clinton Fights for Survival

Hillary Clinton hasn't stopped for breath since her bruising 17-point loss in Wisconsin. She has barely paused long enough to acknowledge the defeat, offering just a few words of congratulations to her opponent ("He's had a good couple of weeks") during a New York City speech Wednesday morning before asserting, "This campaign goes on!"

But make no mistake about it: Clinton's landslide loss in the Badger State, despite her campaign having devoted substantial time and resources there, is a tremendous blow. Nonetheless, Clinton has continued her now standard practice of nonchalantly downplaying (some might say ignoring) contests she loses. As the results streamed in Tuesday night, Clinton flew to her adopted home of Westchester County, N.Y., after leading a bizarre 9 p.m. rally at a high school in depressed Youngstown, Ohio, where a crowd of more than 1,000 cheered and whooped (and rushed a surrogate off the stage with a spontaneous "Hillary!" chant as he tried to finish his introductory remarks). All night, the traveling press corps was in an alternative reality of Clinton's design, one where Wisconsin's disappointing loss—and Barack Obama's surprising success with the white women and blue-collar voters who have previously supported Clinton in larger numbers—did not happen.

Typically, Clinton is wasting no time Wednesday dwelling on defeat. After arriving in New York at 1:30 this morning, she and the reporters traveling with her managed to get a few hours of rest before an 8:30 a.m. speech at Hunter College in Manhattan. The speech, which she previewed in Youngstown on Tuesday night, shows an increasing emphasis on populist rhetoric in the home stretch leading up to make-or-break March 4 primaries in Texas and Ohio, the latter a state where job loss in the manufacturing sector has crippled the economy.

Wednesday morning's speech was especially notable for the unusually harsh words Clinton directed at Obama. She has been on the attack in recent days--accusing her opponent of ducking a debate in Wisconsin, plagiarizing a speech and breaking a campaign pledge to take public financing should he become the Democratic nominee. On Wednesday, Clinton went even further in remarks that asked voters to compare her ample achievements with Obama's, which she implied were scant. She seemed to be ridiculing Obama when she cited a recent MSNBC interview in which one of his supporters flailed when asked to list the Illinois senator's legislative accomplishments. "My good friend Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones from Ohio represented me on one of the TV programs in the last day or two—some of you may have seen her. And she was on against someone representing my opponent, and for the first time, actually, the host asked the representative of my opponent to name one accomplishment. That is all we're asking for. We're asking to compare our records. We're asking to compare our years of service." Clinton didn't say so explicitly, but her tone of voice and inflections—along with the fact that the interview in question has become a YouTube embarrassment for the Obama camp—strongly implied that Obama's representative couldn't name any accomplishments because he has none of note.

Building on a new TV ad the campaign debuted in Ohio Tuesday called "Night Shift"—in which Clinton works at her desk at night while the narrator says, "She understands. She's worked the night shift, too."—Clinton spoke at length in her Hunter speech about how she is better equipped to help the working class than Obama. In a strident tone increasingly reminiscent of John Edwards, Clinton is trying to appeal to Ohio voters by highlighting free trade's impact on blue-collar workers (Obama has been critical of Clinton's position on NAFTA in recent days). On Tuesday her campaign handed journalists a new policy outline detailing the problems she has with NAFTA and laying out how her trade agenda will make "trade work for working families." In Wednesday's speech, Clinton said she identifies with the working class and has spent her life trying to help "people who are trying to make it. I know who you are. You pour coffee in the corner restaurant, you fix people's hair, you ring up the cash register, you deliver the mail."

About 1,500 supporters attended the speech at Hunter's campus, though, tellingly, very few of them appeared to be of college age. Fellow New York legislators Sen. Chuck Schumer, Rep. Charles Rangel and Rep. Carolyn Maloney were there, along with close to a dozen New York state elected officials, including former New York City mayor David Dinkins. In his introductory remarks, Schumer acknowledged the grim situation Clinton now faces, having lost 10 consecutive contests. But he said he's not worried. "I have seen Hillary Clinton take a punch, but every time she gets right back up stronger than before," Schumer said. "So Ohio and Texas and Vermont and Rhode Island get ready because here she comes—Hillary Rodham Clinton, the next president of these great states!"

After the Hunter speech, which doubled as a "low dollar" fund-raiser (supporters had to donate $50 or more to get in), Clinton was slated to spend a few hours in New York tapping more connections for money at two fund-raising events. Later on Wednesday, the campaign jets off to south Texas, where Clinton will hold rallies in Hidalgo and Brownsville, both strongholds for the Latino voters she is counting on to win the state for her. In Hidalgo, Clinton will be joined by Rep. Ruben Hinojosa while in Brownsville Rep. Solomon Ortiz will do the honors. After the Brownsville rally at 8:45 Wednesday night, Clinton will fly to Laredo, where she will hold a rally Thursday before heading to Austin for what could be the most important debate of her life. There's little sleep on the Clinton bus, where every day takes the candidate one step closer to March 4, a contest that increasingly looks like a battle for Hillary Clinton's political life.