The Hillary Deathwatch
Polls predict Clinton can survive Tuesday, but the path forward is pocked with pitfalls.
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Clinton's prospects for surviving Indiana and North Carolina continue to look favorable. Howard Dean still wants to seat Florida and Michigan delegates—which would probably benefit Clinton—while another former DNC chair endorses Obama. Jimmy Carter indicates he'll follow the pledged delegates, which is good news for Obama. Plug all that into the equation and Clinton pops up 0.2 points to 12.3 percent.
Last Friday, we compared the Clinton campaign to a shark that must continuously move forward in order to stay alive. Here's another muddled maritime metaphor that applies: that of a killer whale toying with a baby seal before inevitably eating it. Unfortunately for Clinton, she's the seal.
Ever since Clinton's nine-point win in Pennsylvania last week, the narrative has steadily shifted in Clinton's favor. Now Obama's commanding lead in the polls in North Carolina has dwindled to single digits. Rasmussen has him with a 49-40 lead today, an erosion of 5 percentage points since Monday. Zogby gives Obama a 14-point lead in North Carolina and reports a dead heat in Indiana.
In other good news for Clinton, DNC Chairman Howard Dean appeared on TheDaily Show last night and reiterated his resolve to seat Florida and Michigan at the convention. The guys at DemConWatch have diligently calculated six outcomes, and each one that seats Florida and/or Michigan in some way benefits Clinton by as few as 27 net delegates or as many as 121.
Meanwhile, former DNC Chairman Paul Kirk, a Massachusetts superdelegate, endorsed Obama today. This will snag fewer headlines than yesterday's news that another former DNC leader, Joe Andrew, defected from Clinton's camp in favor of Obama's. But it can't hurt.
And speaking of established party figures, superdelegate and former President Jimmy Carter hinted in an interview with the Daily Telegraph that he will back the pledged-delegate winner, a position that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and at least seven other superdelegates support. Barring a miraculous revote in Florida or Michigan (a scenario that's been all but ruled out), the pledged-delegate honors will almost certainly go to Obama.
After May 6, the story line could shift in Clinton's favor. But as First Read noted, the front-runner label is more often a liability than a boon. If Clinton does well on Tuesday, the narrative will turn against her again. Obama, who is most comfortable as the insurgent, will regain his footing. (He's already trying, with a new ad slamming Clinton's gas-tax-holiday proposal.) If he can stage a "comeback," the case that Clinton had a reasonable shot at the nomination will look flimsy in retrospect, while Obama will look like the predator toying with its prey before sinking in its teeth.
Chris Wilson is a Slate contributor.
Illustration by Rob Donnelly.