Clinton turns in a solid performance at the Petraeus hearing.

Down and on the way out.
April 9 2008 2:11 PM

The Hillary Deathwatch

Clinton turns in a solid performance at the Petraeus hearing.

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In case you haven't noticed, the Hillary Deathwatch operates a lot like the health meter in Gears of War. As long as you're not getting shot at, your health goes up. In Hillary's case, nothing too crazy happened in the past 24 hours—a solid performance at the Petraeus hearing, a slight post-Penn morale boost, and a superdelegate regained. Which, in total, bumps Clinton up 0.1 points to a flat 10 percent chance of winning the nomination.

Clinton and Obama showed off their grilling skills at yesterday's Senate hearings with Gen. David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker but didn't offer much more than their usual bleak assessments. Clinton drew contrasts with John McCain, saying she "fundamentally" disagreed with his assessment that troop withdrawals are irresponsible—but stopped short of her "willing suspension of disbelief" remarks last time. Spoken like a true future majority leader.

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Obama, trying hard to look involved, gets points for pushing the two men on what sort of qualified progress they'd be satisfied with and tosses out "30,000" as a possible troop-level goal to see if they bite. They don't.

The gist of the hearing: We're going to maintain current (or near-current) troop levels through the end of Bush's administration. Neither Democratic candidate appears to benefit more than the other. Obama gets to keep playing the war authorization card, certainly. But Petraeus' testimony raises questions about whether Obama could realistically pull out all combat troops within 18 months.

It's Day Three A.P. (after Penn), and the question now is, How gone is he really? A piece in the Observer suggests he's been relegated to just-another-adviser status. As much as the shake-up stokes rumors about the campaign crumbling, Penn's demotion seems to have boosted morale, or what remains of it. Staffers argue that this will let Clinton take more-liberal stances—then again, how does she get more liberal than universal health care, restructuring NAFTA, and creating a "poverty czar"?

Meanwhile, Obama appears to be inching toward opting out of public funding for the general, despite previous statements ("promises," according to McCain) that he would accept the funds if his opponent did. At a fundraiser last night in Washington, D.C., Obama called his money machine "a parallel public financing system" that lets small donors "have as much access and influence" over the campaign as wealthy ones. McCain will cry hypocrisy, especially now that he's taking the first steps toward matching funds. Hillary might mention it, too—although that would acknowledge the possibility that Obama makes it to the general, which is still a no-no. Chances are this will hurt Obama in the short run but help him in the end.

In other news, Clinton gets a superdelegate! Or, rather, regains one she lost before. When California Rep. Tom Lantos died, it reduced Clinton's delegate count by one. His replacement, Jackie Speier, won a special election yesterday with 78 percent of the vote. More importantly, she is a Clinton supporter. That brings the number of superdelegates Clinton has netted since the week of March 4 to … five? Six? Obama has netted at least 28 in the same period, closing Clinton's superdelegate lead to 24, according to DemConWatch. If (when) that lead vanishes entirely, Clinton will have some explaining to do if she wants to sway new superdelegates.

Tonight, Elton John performs at a fundraising event at Radio City Music Hall. Here's his chance to crowd-test the inevitable Clinton version of Candle in the Wind.

For a full list of our Deathwatches, click here. For a primer on Hillary's sinking ship, visit our first Deathwatch entry. Send your own prognostications to hillarydeathwatch@gmail.com.

Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.