A Look Back: Clinton Tireless Till the Last Chapter For Hillary Clinton, what started as a campaign of inevitability later turned into a candidacy buoyed by experience. Then it was eclipsed by a rising Barack Obama and finally came to a presumptive halt this week. NPR's David Greene, who covered Clinton's presidential campaign from the beginning, looks back.
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A Look Back: Clinton Tireless Till the Last Chapter

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A Look Back: Clinton Tireless Till the Last Chapter

A Look Back: Clinton Tireless Till the Last Chapter

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Steve Inskeep is reporting this week from Karachi, Pakistan. I'm Renee Montagne at NPR West.

Reporters traveling with Senator Barack Obama sensed something was happening yesterday when the presumptive Democratic nominee was not onboard a flight to Chicago as planned. Instead, Obama had a private meeting with his former rival, Senator Hillary Clinton.

No details were given but representatives of the two senators released an unusual joint statement. It said, quote: "Sen. CLINTON and Senator Obama had a productive discussion about the important work that needs to be done to succeed in November."

Their meeting came a couple of days before Clinton formally leaves the race. On Saturday she's expected to suspend her campaign and announce her support for Obama. Hillary Clinton's public acceptance of her loss has been several days in coming and the end of her campaign was fought hard.

NPR's David Greene has been reporting on the Clinton campaign for several months. He has this look at it as it comes to terms with defeat.

DAVID GREENE: Hillary Clinton has spent the last 17 months rarely sleeping.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York, Presidential Candidate): Good morning, Greenbelt...hello, Georgia...let's hear it for New Hampshire...hello, Akron...

GREENE: Clinton kept an especially frantic schedule in early February heading into Super Tuesday. She had won New Hampshire and Nevada but Barack Obama had taken Iowa and South Carolina and now 22 more states had contests. There were two days left, it was Super Bowl Sunday, and 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. I was invited in to talk to her while her home state New York Giants were in the fourth quarter against the New England Patriots. Clinton said she hadn't seen much of the game.

Sen. CLINTON: Has there been any really memorable ads? I've missed all the ads.

GREENE: I asked Clinton that night to step back and talk about what she had accomplished so far.

Sen. CLINTON: Well, you know, I started running over a year ago and I really believed that my biggest hurdle as a woman running for the presidency was to clear the commander-in-chief hurdle.

GREENE: It's a hurdle she felt she cleared. Clinton also talked that night about the importance of experience. An election, she had said before, isn't about who you want to have a beer with but about who can get results.

Sen. CLINTON: You know, I was reelected in New York with 67 percent of the vote after I had served the people for six years. I want the opportunity to serve the people of America in the same way.

GREENE: The suggestion was, you know, you might not want to have a beer with me but I'll be a great president. Do people not want to sit down and have a beer with you?

Sen. CLINTON: A lot of people do. I've had more than a few beers on the campaign trail this past year. Had some, you know, good local beers and microbrews. So you know, I think it's the wrong question.

GREENE: After we chatted, Clinton turned back to the TV.

Sen. CLINTON: So what happened? 10-7 or...

GREENE: Hundreds of her supporters were out in the bar watching the end of the game. As I went out there, Clinton said she was staying behind in that little office. She said she wanted a few more quiet minutes.

In truth, Clinton had accomplished a lot. Voters could now imagine a woman in the White House, and people were convinced of her experience. The problem was that she had never planned for an opponent like Barack Obama. That night in Minnesota I saw a politician looking for answers.

When Super Tuesday came, little was decided, but then Clinton's road got tough. She had a string of defeats, ending with Obama's rout in Wisconsin on February 19th. That night Clinton moved quickly to a new state and held 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.

Mr. TOM BUFFENBARGER (Labor Leader): Hope, change, yes we can. 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.

GREENE: It was a low point. After that Wisconsin loss, the math was against Clinton. Unless superdelegates intervened, she could not overtake Obama. But the funny thing was, that's when Clinton started winning. She won Ohio, she won the primary in Texas, and she took Pennsylvania. And the victories had the candidate smiling.

As she got ready for primaries in Indiana and North Carolina last month, Clinton came back on her plane to show us something.

Sen. CLINTON: I have been given the most amazing little gifts in my life. How are you?

Unidentified Man: Hi, Senator.

Sen. CLINTON: And, Ron, this is a first.

GREENE: A woman who makes balloon animals constructed a balloon Hillary Clinton, right down to the candidate's favorite clothing.

Sen. CLINTON: It's the pantsuit.

GREENE: A few days later, reality hit. Clinton was hoping to come close to Obama in North Carolina, and she lost in a landslide. She was hoping to win decisively in Indiana, and she won, but barely. If this had been her night to send a message of strength to superdelegates, it didn't work out. Clinton's victory party in Indianapolis was the first time I remember hearing supporters worried. Shelly Raniaz(ph) said she was disappointed about Indiana.

Ms. SHELLY RANIAZ (Clinton Supporter): Yes, I was, because as we all know, the numbers need to add up. I'm an accountant. They need to add up and they're not there, unless, of course, we're going to count Michigan and Florida, which I think we should, at least Florida.

GREENE: I asked Shelly if she was starting to accept that Clinton could lose the nomination.

Ms. RANIAZ: It's hard. I'm more, you know, always think the worst, so I always think the worst, so - I'm hoping it will be different though.

GREENE: But there was little reason for optimism, and 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 listened to what supporters were telling her. This was the scene in Logan, West Virginia.

Unidentified Woman #1 (Clinton Supporter): (Unintelligible)

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Presidential Candidate): God bless you. Thank you so much.

Unidentified Woman #2 (Clinton Supporter): Hillary, don't give up.

Unidentified Woman #3 (Clinton Supporter): Don't give up at all.

Unidentified Man: Yeah, don't give up, Hillary.

Unidentified Woman #4 (Clinton Supporter): Don't give up, Hillary.

Unidentified Woman #5 (Clinton Supporter): We're praying for you.

GREENE: When a campaign is winding down, it's hard to hide it. Sometimes it's the little things, like the Secret Service agent who was taking six weeks off. Everyone asked if he'd be assigned again to the Clinton plane and he said if this thing is still going. Events don't seemed planned as well. Clinton spoke in a hospital courtyard in Portland, Oregon.

Sen. CLINTON: I know you're huddled under blankets, which I deeply regret because it is a little chillier than anybody anticipated.

GREENE: It was so chilly, patients were shivering.

Sen. CLINTON: But 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.

GREENE: Then came Yankton, South Dakota this week. Clinton's advance team hadn't done its homework.

Sen. CLINTON: I also want to acknowledge your mayor, Mayor Curt Bernard, where's the mayor? I know he was here somewhere. What? What?

Unidentified Man #2: The mayor is Dan Specht. He's right over there.

Sen. CLINTON: Oh, Dan Specht. Well, I got the wrong name here, Dan Specht. Well, Mister Mayor, it's great to be with you. I don't know who the other gentleman is, but I hope I haven't offended him. But thank you, mayor, for being here.

GREENE: That would be Clinton's last day of campaigning. She flew to New York City and on Tuesday thanked her supporters. She didn't mention that Obama had won the delegate race.

Sen. CLINTON: I want the nearly 18 million Americans who voted for me to be respected, to be heard, and no longer to be invisible.

(Soundbite of cheers)

GREENE: One of those millions of people who supported Clinton was 70-year-old Lorraine Borden. I asked her if she's ready to support Barack Obama.

Ms. LORRAINE BORDEN (Clinton Supporter): I would only vote for Obama if Hillary felt that was the right thing and announced it to all of us.

GREENE: Lorraine might get some instructions from Clinton tomorrow when the candidate plans to suspend her campaign and speak to her supporters.

David Greene, NPR News, Washington.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: Hillary Clinton's failure to concede yet to Barack Obama has caused consternation among Democrats. Find out what insiders are saying at npr.org/elections.

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