Clinton advisors predict long race to nomination

On a conference call Tuesday, the Clinton campaign predicted Hillary would still hold a lead in total delegates Wednesday, but said Super Tuesday might prove inconclusive.

Published February 5, 2008 8:40PM (EST)

Got off a conference call with two top staffers for Sen. Hillary Clinton, communications director Howard Wolfson and chief strategist Mark Penn, a little bit ago. Obviously, they're keeping their information close to the vest, but they said some things of interest.

First, Wolfson and Penn kept to a consistent message: They don't expect tonight's results to decide anything, and anticipate a long campaign to come. "The proportional allocation process on our side is really designed to keep the nominating process going for as long as possible and I think it will be successful in achieving that goal," Wolfson said.

Though they were unwilling to make too many predictions, they were willing to say that they think Clinton will come away from tonight maintaining a lead in total delegates. Now, the wording of that is important -- that means it includes "superdelegates" who are unpledged and not associated with vote results in any state. Wolfson and Penn would not commit to a prediction about pledged delegates. Nor would they hazard a guess about whether Clinton or Sen. Barack Obama would win more pledged delegates tonight. "I think it is possible that Sen. Obama will come out of the night having won more delegates on the day. I think it is possible that we will have come out winning more delegates on the day," Wolfson said.

Asked by reporters to provide some insight into which states might be key bellwethers for declaring one candidate victorious tonight, Wolfson joked, "It's a very good question and it's a fair question. My answer is whoever wins New York should be given momentum and bragging rights." (Clinton is widely expected to win here tonight.) But more seriously, Wolfson pointed to two states he clearly wants to spin as must-wins for the Obama campaign, Massachusetts and California. Wolfson emphasized the work the Obama camp has put into Massachusetts and the major endorsements they've gotten from political figures in the state, as well as the big event featuring Oprah Winfrey and California first lady Maria Shriver that Obama's campaign held in California over the weekend. Wolfson additionally pointed to the Zogby poll released Tuesday that shows Obama winning California by 13 points over Clinton. "Judging by the Zogby poll, if Obama doesn't win by 13 points in California, it'll have to be considered a disappointing day," Wolfson said.

Asked by Salon about the discrepancy between the Zogby poll and a contemporaneous one conducted by SurveyUSA that shows Clinton with a large lead, Wolfson responded, "I don't think that either side is 13 points ahead in California. Look, I think California's going to be close. The Obama campaign's spent tremendous resources in California... We will see what happens. I suspect it will be a very late night." He then went on to complain about Vote Hope, a 527 group operating on Obama's behalf in California, and accused Obama of hypocrisy for not speaking out against the group. Wolfson took pains to bring an old attack Obama had made on former Sen. John Edwards into the discussion, pointing out that Obama had condemned Edwards for the work a 527 did on his behalf in Iowa, and asserting that Obama had not condemned the 527 in California. (For what it's worth, that's not totally true -- an Obama campaign spokesman has repeatedly and publicly repudiated the group and asked it to stop its efforts, but the group said it would continue anyway.)

Finally, the campaign announced that it has accepted invitations to four new debates. No word yet about whether the Obama campaign has also accepted, but what was interesting is that one of the debates will be on Fox News. The Democratic candidates had backed out of earlier debates on the network in what amounted to a boycott. And small but amusing nonetheless -- in his initial announcement, Wolfson did not specifically mention the Fox News debate. But when it came time for Major Garrett of Fox News to ask a question, Garrett was sure to ask whether there were any more details, leading Wolfson to announce the Fox debate explicitly.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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