Clinton: Obama Can't Win 'White Americans'

At a rally in Central Point, Ore., last night, Hillary Clinton didn't leave any doubt that she's still in it to win it. She challenged Barack Obama to a debate in Portland on Friday, where they'll both be campaigning, saying she'll meet "absolutely anytime, anywhere." She stressed her knowledge of controversial local issues, saying Obama is on the wrong side of them. And she taunted Obama for talking a good game without backing it up, not unlike, Clinton said, President George W. Bush.

"My opponent voted for legislation … which gave more tax subsidies to the oil companies, more tax subsidies to the nuclear industry, and which took away the right of states to determine whether [liquefied natural gas] terminals would be placed along their coast. So there's a lot we should be debating about," she told a raucous crowd of about 1,000 supporters. "Back in 2000 some people voted for President Bush because he went around telling people in settings like this that he was a compassionate conservative. Nobody knew what that meant, did they? But it sure did sound good."

Clinton arrived in Oregon yesterday two hours late. The campaign fell behind schedule after starting the day at dawn in Washington, D.C., before hopscotching to West Virginia and South Dakota for campaign events. Even though Clinton's chartered plane didn't land in Oregon until about 9:30 p.m. ET, the senator squeezed in a fund-raiser before making her way to her third rally of the day, which was held inside of a cavernous hangar at the county fairgrounds. The New York senator's resilience and unflinchingly broad smile belied her grim circumstances, three days after she failed to perform well enough in the North Carolina and Indiana primaries to turn the race around. Despite her strong rhetoric, it is now clear that Clinton can't win the Democratic nomination unless the superdelegates overturn the popular vote and Barack Obama's pledged delegate lead. Even if Florida and Michigan votes are fully counted, Clinton still will finish the primary race behind Obama in pledged delegates. How then does the campaign justify continuing?

To hear Clinton's chief superdelegate hunter Harold Ickes tell it, Clinton is continuing the fight because she's convinced she can beat McCain. Clinton has refused to come out and say Obama can't beat McCain (when pressed to by several debate moderators, she has demurred). But in an interview with NEWSWEEK, Ickes strongly suggested that Obama can't win come November. "We have to remember McCain is not a standard, off-the-shelf Republican," Ickes said, echoing the argument he says he's making to superdelegates, and pointing up Clinton's inarguable strength with Roman Catholics, Hispanics and elderly voters in key November battleground states such as Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. "He will have a lot of appeal for Hispanics. He'll trounce [Obama]."

The pool of uncommitted superdelegates—numbering 230 or so—being wooed by the Clinton camp are worried about Obama's general-election viability, Ickes said. He stressed that if Obama can't win Florida or Ohio—both states in which he has polled less favorably than Clinton—then states like New Mexico and Nevada will take on more importance. And Ickes suggested Obama can't win in those places either. "Big Hispanic populations," Ickes said. "If you look at the reach she has from a general-election perspective, she is a much stronger candidate. She has a much stronger base in swing or Purple States and she has a much stronger base to get to 270."

Clinton herself has also made a more pointed mention of race. In an article published yesterday in USA Today, Clinton said she would have a larger group of voters to draw a winning coalition from because "Senator Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again." What happened to playing nice? Even as surrogates have called for a less bitterly fought campaign, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein publicly warned Clinton yesterday that she is concerned about the "negative dividends" of the contest. Some advisers have been quoted speaking privately about plans to keep the campaign's tone positive going forward. But the candidate only seems to be escalating her rhetoric.