THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Joan Vennochi

And now it gets interesting (again)

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Joan Vennochi
Globe Columnist / March 6, 2008

UNEASY is the Democrat who wears the mantle of inevitability.

Barack Obama has delegates and math on his side. But a resilient rival still tugs at his cape, searching for the kryptonite that will derail Superman. Tuesday was a good night for voters who aren't Hillary haters or Obama worshipers. Primary victories in Rhode Island, Ohio, and Texas restored Clinton's dignity and should also remind Obama that even a messiah benefits from humility.

Politically, it means the fight to win the nomination goes on. Hello Pennsylvania and Puerto Rico. Watch for do-over primaries in Florida and Michigan and dueling that continues to the convention in Denver.

The political number-crunchers insist there's no way Obama can lose his delegate lead. But, if you're Clinton, why not think about pulling a Ted Kennedy?

In 1980, Senator Edward M. Kennedy and incumbent President Jimmy Carter battled through a nine month primary season. As recounted recently by NationalJournal.com, Kennedy came into the Democratic convention in New York City with 1,225 delegates to Carter's 1,981, with 122 delegates uncommitted. The Massachusetts senator tried to snatch the nomination from Carter, by urging delegates to adopt a rule that would release them from their voting commitment.

He failed and went on to deliver the famous speech, written by Bob Shrum, which ended with these lines: "For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. For all those who cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives on and the dream shall never die."

A few years later, the party embraced the rule that prevails today; no matter what the primary results, the so-called superdelegates can pledge their vote to whomever they prefer.

Clinton can also hope she finds more kryptonite before Denver, the kind that makes Obama look more like an ordinary politician and less like a political god.

Before the March 4 primary contests, Clinton pushed questions about Obama's ties to Chicago real estate dealer Tony Rezko, and about Obama's vow to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. Ultimately, the issues she raised resulted in a contentious showdown between Obama and the press.

Obama and his campaign initially denied a Canadian television report that a top economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee, met with Canadian government officials in Chicago and told them Obama's call for reopening the North American Free Trade Agreement was merely campaign rhetoric.

But the media pressed Obama on the issue after the Associated Press obtained a Canadian government memo that detailed the meeting between Goolsbee and Canadian officials.

The Illinois senator was also questioned about his relationship with Rezko, who is on trial in Chicago for pressuring firms seeking state business to pay kickbacks. Obama is no way implicated in the case; but he received political contributions from Rezko, which he returned; and bought a strip of property adjacent to his home with Rezko's help, which he has called "boneheaded." At the press conference, he refused to disclose how many fund-raising events Rezko hosted for him or who attended.

The senator from Illinois did not look good when he protested, "I just answered, like eight questions," and walked away.

Shady fund-raisers and blatant pandering are traditional Clinton vulnerabilities. Obama must strike back, and he signaled yesterday that he will. He said her experience and ethics should be challenged, too.

But Obama has to be careful about helping Clinton once again turn victimhood into votes. That's the prevaiing view of how she beat him, and it's part of the comeback story. She also raised concerns about Obama's readiness for office with a melodramatic ad that presented her as the best candidate to handle an international crisis at 3 a.m.

But there's more than that to Clinton's March 4 victories. She also showed strength in the face of adversity. She got voters to rethink the consequences of speed dating a presidential candidate. She rekindled the bond with female voters who were forgetting the history that could be made with her candidacy, too.

Finally, and much too late, Hillary, not Bill Clinton, is front and center. The governor of Ohio, not the former president of the United States, stood by her side while she basked in confetti and victory.

She got her dignity back, but not her inevitability.

But, as Clinton knows, the funny thing about inevitability is that it's not always inevitable.

Joan Vennochi's e-mail address is vennochi@globe.com.

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