What does the Clinton campaign's denial mean?

Aides to Clinton deny a report that Clinton will admit that Obama has enough delegates for the nomination, but their statements are open to interpretation.

Published June 3, 2008 4:06PM (EDT)

I'm usually pretty loath to parse statements and denials looking for loopholes, and I didn't intend to do that with this story either, at least not publicly. But if you do give a close read to the denials coming out of Hillary Clinton's campaign, attacking an Associated Press story that reported Clinton will acknowledge in a speech tonight that Barack Obama has gotten the delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination, it seems clear that it's leaving itself plenty of wiggle room. What sealed my decision to post is when I saw the AP's update to its story -- clearly, the wire service is standing by the report, and is parsing the denials in the same way I am.

The Clinton camp's official response was, "The AP story is incorrect. Senator Clinton will not concede the nomination this evening." But here's the thing: Despite the way it was covered by some media outlets, the AP's story did not say that Clinton would concede the nomination. Here's what it did say:

Hillary Rodham Clinton will concede Tuesday night that Barack Obama has the delegates to secure the Democratic nomination, campaign officials said, effectively ending her bid to be the nation's first female president ...

The former first lady will stop short of formally suspending or ending her race in her speech in New York City.

There are some important, if somewhat subtle, differences between what the AP said and a flat concession. And in an update to the story, the AP all but says that. The updated story reads:

In a formal statement, the campaign made clear the limits of how far she would go in Tuesday night's speech. "Senator Clinton will not concede the nomination," the statement said.

Clinton aides like Howard Wolfson, Terry McAuliffe and Harold Ickes are saying more in their denials to various outlets. They're emphasizing that, right now, Obama does not have the delegates necessary to claim the nomination, and that's true. The question is whether he will -- the Obama camp is certainly shooting for that, and it has announced a handful of superdelegate endorsements already. As of this post, the campaign claims to be 36.5 delegates away from victory.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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2008 Elections Barack Obama Hillary Rodham Clinton War Room