A Look Back: Clinton Tireless Till the Last Chapter

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New York Sen. Hillary Clinton has spent the past 17 months rarely sleeping.

She kept an especially frantic schedule in early February, heading into Super Tuesday. At that point, she had won New Hampshire and Nevada, but Illinois Sen. Barack Obama had taken Iowa and South Carolina.

On Super Bowl Sunday, two days before 22 other states would be holding their Democratic primaries, Clinton landed at a bar in Minnesota. She shook one hand after another. Then she went back to a quiet office near the kitchen to make calls and do some interviews. By the fourth quarter of the game, which pitted her home state New York Giants against the New England Patriots, Clinton admitted she had not seen much of the matchup.

"Have there been any memorable ads?" Clinton inquired. "I missed all the ads."

That night, she paused to reflect on what she had accomplished so far.

"I started running over a year ago, and I really believed my biggest hurdle as a woman running for the presidency was to clear the commander-in-chief hurdle," she said.

It is a hurdle she felt she had cleared. Voters across the country could now imagine a woman in the White House. Many people were also convinced of her experience. The problem: She had never planned for an opponent like Obama. What emerged that Super Bowl Sunday in Minnesota was a politician looking for answers.

A Turbulent Road

When Super Tuesday came, little was decided. But then Clinton's road got tough. She had a string of defeats, ending with Obama's big win in Wisconsin on Feb. 19. That night, Clinton moved quickly to a new state, holding a rally in Youngstown, Ohio. One of the people introducing Clinton that evening was a labor leader named Tom Buffenbarger. He began with an anti-Obama tirade.

"Hope. Change. Yes we can," Buffenbarger said, referencing Obama's campaign themes. "Give me a break! I've got news for all the latte-drinking, Prius-driving, Birkenstock-wearing trust-fund babies crowding in to hear him speak. This guy won't last a round against the Republican attack machine. He's a poet, not a fighter. Look around you!"

It was a low point. After her loss in Wisconsin, the math was against Clinton. Unless superdelegates intervened, she could not overtake Obama. However, in a strange twist, that was when Clinton started winning. She won Ohio, she won the primary in Texas and she took Pennsylvania. The victories had the candidate smiling. As she got ready for primaries in Indiana and North Carolina last month, Clinton was in high spirits.

"I have been given the most amazing little gifts in my life," she told the reporters traveling with her on her plane. A woman who makes balloon animals constructed a balloon version of Clinton, right down to the candidate's favorite clothing.

"It's the pantsuit!" she exclaimed.

Supporters Start to Lose Faith

A few days later, reality hit. Clinton was hoping to come close to Obama in North Carolina; instead, she lost in a landslide. She was hoping to win decisively in Indiana; she won narrowly. If this had been her night to send a message of strength to superdelegates, it did not work out. At Clinton's victory party in Indianapolis, supporters started to speculate about whether the candidate would drop out. Clinton supporter Shelly Raina admitted her disappointment.

"We all know the numbers need to add up. I'm an accountant; they need to add up. They're not there," Raina said. "Unless we count Michigan and Florida, which I think we should — at least Florida."

Raina said she was starting to accept that Clinton could lose the nomination.

"I always think the worst. I hope it will be different, though," she said.

There was little reason for optimism. Clinton started getting the question almost every day: "Why not drop out?"

Her campaign answered by inviting reporters to come stand next to Clinton as she signed autographs, and listen to what supporters were telling her. At a signing in Logan, W. Va., supporters indeed were still urging her on.

"We got your back," they told her. "Don't give up, Hillary ... We're praying for you."

Beginning of the End

Despite the words of encouragement, many signs indicated that the Clinton campaign was at the beginning of the end. One was the Secret Service agent who was taking six weeks off. When asked if he would be assigned to the Clinton plane when he returned, his response was, "If this thing is still going."

In another telltale sign, campaign events became less organized. Clinton spoke in a hospital courtyard in Portland, Ore., where patients, including children, were kept shivering out in the cold to hear her speak.

"I know you're huddled under blankets, which I deeply regret, because it is a little chillier than anybody anticipated," Clinton told the crowd. "I don't want the children who are patients here to be out here too much longer, because I don't think that's the right thing to do. So I'm going to end."

Then came the episode in Yankton, S.D., this week. Clinton's advance team had not done its homework. In a name mix-up, Clinton addressed Yankton's mayor, Dan Specht, as Curt Bernard, the former mayor who had been ousted six months before for questionable practices while in office. Clinton's mere mention of Bernard's name drew jeers and boos from the audience.

Followers Await Instruction

Yankton would be Clinton's last campaign stop. She then flew to New York City, and on Tuesday, the day of the final two Democratic primaries, thanked her supporters. She did not mention that Obama had won the delegate race.

"I want the nearly 18 million Americans who voted for me to be respected, to be heard and no longer to be invisible," she told her audience.

One of those millions of people who supported Clinton was 70-year-old Lorraine Borden. Asked if she is ready to support Barack Obama, Borden said, "I would only vote for Obama if Hillary felt that was the right thing and announced it to all of us."

Borden might get those instructions from Clinton on Saturday, when she plans to suspend her campaign and speak to her supporters.

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