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Is Clinton’s 2012 Campaign Under Way?

We know Hillary Clinton is smart, and we so can assume that for some time she has known, as well as anyone, that it is virtually impossible for her to become the Democratic nominee for President in 2008. So what could explain her continuing to battle, risking her party’s approbation?

We fear there is one explanation that fits too well: that Clinton is actually already fighting the 2012 race. We hope we are wrong. But within this frame, her actions do make perfect sense.

Clinton seems to be doing her best to weaken Obama’s candidacy and therefore the likelihood that he can win against McCain. With that result, she could say, “I told you so” and offer herself as the 2012 savior of the Democratic Party. Her husband’s statement last weekend, that the Democrats were more likely to lose in November if she is not the nominee, fits that pattern.

Here’s, sadly, how the strategy looks to us.

First Clinton defends her continued presence in the race against all odds, arguing that the pressure on her to get out is “unprecedented.” To make her case, she compares hers with two other supposedly extended campaigns — her husband’s and RKF’s. But Bill Clinton was essentially unchallenged from March on. And RFK? He entered the race mid-March, so his campaign lasted less than three months.

Then she continues her campaign as long as possible — ideally right through the convention — all the while pressing themes already proven to weaken Obama’s. Her methods:

• Play on powerful racism that in America lies barely below the surface by emphasizing Obama’s weakness among white working-class voters.

• Stoke anger about her trailing position among her most ardent supporters — older white women — by using sweeping claims of sexist treatment instead of attacking specific sexist statements.

• Promote uncertainty about Obama’s religious beliefs, but subtly so she doesn’t get slammed. For example, when she was asked whether Obama is a Muslim, she equivocated with “No, as far as I know.”