Is it over for Hillary?

Party pressure, waning support and depleting funds could force her to quit race.

ON THE stump in Philadelphia recently, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton likened herself to the city’s fictional boxing hero Rocky Balboa.

Brushing aside growing calls for her to quit the US presidential race, she said: “When it comes to finishing the fight, Rocky and I have a lot in common. I never quit.”

At this point, her campaign looks battered. The numbers are against her in the delegate count, party elders are putting pressure on her to end a divisive race and her war chest is running low.

The question that looms larger by the day is at which point she will go the way of other candidates past and present: Decide one day that reality trumps ambition, and end the quest.

Party pressures, waning popular support and a depleting war chest all have a bearing on when White House candidates decide to fold.

Money is probably the most important factor, say political observers, and it dovetails with popular support.

Mr Hank Jones, a Republican strategist who has been involved in US presidential campaigns before, told The Straits Times: “If the candidate is not raising enough cash, it is a lot like being the last guest at a party who does not realise that it is time to go home.”

Some such as Delaware Senator Joe Biden and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson – both Democrats – pulled out early because they had difficulty raising funds.

They saw the folly of plunging into deep personal debt.

Said Ms Jennifer Duffy, a political analyst at Cook Political Report, an independent weekly brief on the US elections: “As the campaign enters its last phase, Clinton is surely going to feel the pinch as funds are tight. Money is the clearest sign of support. When one is not able to draw funds from large donors and their base of support, it is time to close shop.”

Certainly, the New York senator is falling behind her rival Barack Obama in fund-raising. The Obama camp raised US$40 million (S$54 million) last month alone, nearly double that of the Clinton campaign.

The Illinois senator is now outspending Mrs Clinton in political advertising by a rate of more than two to one in Pennsylvania, the next battleground on April 22.

The Democratic leadership is all too well aware of this, and pressure from party elders have in the past influenced a candidate’s decision to quit.

More and more super delegates – the 796 Democratic Party bosses who hold the balance of power in the nomination process – have backed Mr Obama or are leaning his way.

Mr Obama now has 1,641 delegates against Mrs Clinton’s 1,505. While neither is likely to reach the 2,025 delegates needed to clinch the nomination, analysts believe it has become a mathematical impossibility for her to catch up.

Will she give up?

Others in this year’s race, such as Democrat John Edwards and Republican Mitt Romney, read the signs and dropped out after a succession of losses in major primaries.

For Mrs Clinton, the next few weeks will be critical as she confronts the last 10 nominating contests in June.

If she fails to win convincingly, especially in Pennsylvania, the party might well force her hand.

But a decisive victory, observers believe, would see her drag the race through to the August convention.

And there, she is likely to argue that, unlike her, Mr Obama cannot win on the national stage given his losses in vote-rich states such as Texas, California and New York.

Furthermore, his wins in smaller states will be irrelevant to Democrats in the general election as many of these states have usually voted Republican.

What is likely to keep Mrs Clinton – and other future aspirants – going are the real-life political comebacks made by the likes of former presidents Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan, and present Republican flag-bearer John McCain.

Not to be discounted is Mrs Clinton’s burning ambition, coupled with a sense of entitlement. As things get rougher, they are likely to make her even more determined to fight back.

It is what Slate, an American online current affairs magazine, describes as the Rocky Syndrome – “the just-before-the-end affliction” that strikes losing candidates.

“They all go through a punchy period in which, no matter what the odds, they come to believe that they can pull out a victory, with a roundhouse before the final bell.”

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