COMMENTS: What Will Hillary Do?

What is more newsworthy? The political fate of Hillary Rodham Clinton? Or a death toll from Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar that may reach 100,000? Monday, ABC alone of the three newscasts chose the cyclone. Tuesday, only NBC decided to lead with the cyclone rather than the campaign. Now it is CBS' turn, kicking off with the decision by Myanmar's military junta to prevent disaster relief agencies from entering the country. ABC and NBC both led with the Story of the Day: was Rodham Clinton's split decision in Tuesday's Democratic primaries--a narrow win in Indiana, a convincing defeat in North Carolina-- enough to sustain her second-place candidacy?

Barack Obama was the one who prevailed when the two states' results were combined--he won 99 delegates to 87--yet Rodham Clinton's response led the news agenda. Would she quit the race? "I am staying in this race until there is a nominee," she declared from the stump in West Virginia. Jim Axelrod on CBS heard that several unnamed top advisors had recommended that she compete in just three more states--West Virginia, Kentucky and Oregon--and then drop out. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reported that she intends "to stay in until all states have voted." To continue, Rodham Clinton decided to lend her campaign an additional $6.4m of her own fortune, expanding her total personal debt to $11.5m. ABC's Jake Tapper outlined a strategy that would result in her victory: she would win four out of the six remaining primaries; she would persuade the Democratic National Committee to change its rules and accept the results in Florida and Michigan; and she would gain the support of the majority of uncommitted superdelegates. Her outlook, Tapper stated, "looks bleak."

Obama had "overwhelmed" Rodham Clinton in North Carolina, NBC's Mitchell noted, pointing to his huge 92% advantage with the African-American vote. CBS' Axelrod observed that Obama's "strong showing strikes at the heart of Rodham Clinton's argument that Democrats are getting cold feet about Obama." ABC's David Wright (at the tail of the Tapper videostream) reported that Obama is now switching his schedule away from primary contests to so-called battleground states: "The General Election simply will not wait."

All three networks offered some Democratic delegate arithmetic. Obama now has 1848 (CBS and NBC, 1852 on ABC) delegates; Rodham Clinton has 1690 (ABC and CBS, 1695 on NBC). There are, more or less, 480 delegates outstanding (217 from primaries, 263 uncommitted superdelegates). Of those 480, Rodham Clinton needs 335, that is 70%: "Absent a complete collapse in the Obama campaign or an act of God, this race is over," NBC's Tim Russert declared.

So ABC's George Stephanopoulos and CBS' Jeff Greenfield rehearsed possible strategies for Rodham Clinton to make a graceful exit. Greenfield suggested inducements such as help with Rodham Clinton's campaign debt and a primetime speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention. After all, Greenfield reminded us, her future "may be in front of her as an important senator, perhaps a future Presidential candidate." Joe Trippi, his network's in-house political analyst, predicted "it is going to be the Vernon Jordans, the Charlie Rangels, the Evan Bayhs that come to her and say: 'For the sake of the party…'" On ABC, Stephanopoulos imagined a different circle, consisting of husband Bill, daughter Chelsea, chief of staff Maggie Williams, legal counsel Cheryl Mills, and campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe. Is there a way to negotiate a Vice Presidential nomination for the former First Lady? "I think if it were offered the right way, Yes."


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