In Hillaryland, Few Clues to the Candidate's Plans
By Perry Bacon Jr.
HOUSTON -- In Hillaryland, the question is whether the candidate has stopped thinking about tomorrow.
Looking to win primaries in Ohio, Texas, Vermont and Rhode Island today, Hillary Clinton conducted more than 20 satellite interviews from the Four Seasons hotel in Houston.
The interviews mostly lasted three minutes, and were almost mirror images of one another. Ohio anchors asked about the North American Free Trade Agreement, a source of contention between Barack Obama and Clinton, while the Texas television hosts queried her about experience, which she has touted in ads in the state.
But everyone had a variation of the same question: What were the conditions under which Clinton would stay in the race after Tuesday? Did she feel she had to win Ohio, both Ohio and Texas, or none of the above to continue running? A poll published by The Post today suggests that, as long as she wins one of them, most Democrats are fine with Clinton continuing to campaign, despite her long odds of winning the nomination.
The candidate isn't interested in this topic at all. The CBS affiliate in Youngstown asked, "If things don't go in your favor, what are you plans? Would you drop our or would you continue on if Ohio doesn't go your way?"
"I think it's important we let the people of Ohio vote," Clinton said. "We want to hear their views."
So the reporters covering Clinton and even some of her supporters are looking for signals. And there's not a pattern. On Sunday, she was noncommittal about campaigning past Tuesday. The next day, she declared, "I'm just warming up," and talked about stumping in Pennsylvania. Her husband has said she needs to win both states; some of her aides seem to be suggesting she could lose Texas because of its complicated dual-caucus primary and continue running.
And then there are the more subtle things. A few days ago, she spoke in an almost wistful tone about "my embeds," referring to the now exhausted off-air television producers who have literally followed and captured on film her every move for months. (Each major candidate is followed by a group of off-air producers.)
During speeches, Clinton joked on her campaign trail, "I see all my embeds and they're hanging on every word, they never nod off, they never looked bored. You give me hope," she said, looking at one of them. (She was kidding, of course -- the embeds have heard her words over and over again and occasionally looked less than enthralled.)
But Clinton is not "wistful," and I know this because I asked her if she felt that way last week, and she adamantly said she was as determined to win as ever and not at all thinking of her campaign in the past tense.
On Monday night, after a rally in Austin, Clinton and her daughter, Chelsea, gathered with a bunch of aides on the campaign plane for a picture that was the sort that happens at the end of campaigns. In Houston this morning, stopping at a polling site, Clinton lingered for almost an hour, posing for pictures with everyone in sight, worrying one of her campaign's volunteers who wondered if that meant she had gotten "some bad poll numbers" and Clinton was spending Tuesday as if this were her last campaign day.
And Clinton is talking to the press more than ever, too, perhaps befitting her status as the underdog as she seeks to blunt Obama's winning streak. Her aides bragged that while she has taken dozens of questions over the past few days, Obama left a press conference yesterday with reporters shouting questions at him.
But it's not as if Clinton is a much more relaxed figure. Some of the reporters here who have covered her for months say they don't exactly understand Clinton, and even though she was holding a beer as she was chatting with reporters on her plane on Sunday, Clinton remains a very disciplined candidate. That night she refused to detail any instances where her husband was awakened at 3 a.m. during his administration, the kind of situation Clinton cites in one of her television commercials touting her experience.
On Monday, she continued to complain about getting tougher press coverage than Obama and questioned her rival's honesty about how he described contact between Canadian officials and one of his economic advisers. And while her daughter briefly joined Clinton's traveling entourage, Chelsea Clinton did not spend what might be her last day as the child of a presidential candidate with Mom. She was campaigning in Rhode Island.
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