With the harsh light of a local TV camera crew shining in his pale blue eyes, Governor Ted Strickland planted his black wingtips hip width apart and shouted Hillary Clinton's campaign message of the day: This primary fight will continue. Get used to it.
The Ohio governor had particularly harsh words for party leaders who suggest that Clinton should bow out tonight. Strickland blasted Senator Ted Kennedy, who took his own campaign against fellow Democrat Jimmy Carter all the way to the 1980 Democratic convention.
"I mean, give me a break," the governor bellowed over the sound of microphone checks and journalists chatting on cell phones. "Ted Kennedy has no right to tell Hillary Clinton what to do when he took on a sitting president of his own party and handed the election to Ronald Reagan."
Some Democratic Party leaders, including Kennedy and Senator John Kerry, have called on Clinton to pull out of the race if she loses tonight in Ohio. With John McCain all but assured of winning the Republican Party nomination, they worry that an expensive and increasingly heated battle between the Democratic frontrunners would divert finite money and time away from preparing for the general election.
Speaking from the hall in downtown Columbus where Sen. Clinton will speak tonight, Strickland argued that the fight between Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama is bringing huge crowds to Democratic campaign events, and strengthening the party.
"Some people want to end this game in the seventh inning, and I don't think that's right," Strickland said. "This campaign is not over. Not by a long shot." As the television cameras moved away, Governor Strickland ruminated on the weather, then struck a more somber tone. "It's going to be a very close election," he said. "If she loses Ohio, she'll have to re-assess. I'm just trying to postpone such thoughts until we see what happens tonight."
Clinton supporters in Ohio were equally cautiously optimistic. Ken Perdue, 53, admits that, as recently as a week ago, his confidence in Clinton was beginning to wane. "I got really worried that people would go for Obama," Perdue said. "He had won all those other states, and people like to support a winner." Hope returned over the last few days, however. Clinton seems energized and personable in her campaign appearances, Perdue said, and she has retained a narrow but stable lead in the polls. "I really think she's going to pull this one out," Perdue said.
Whether it's a result of Clinton's unrelenting campaign schedule, or the recent allegations that Obama's campaign sent signals to Canada that his tough talk on NAFTA was more political posturing than an actual policy plan, Clinton supporters feel that she has stopped the sense of encroaching doom that seemed to envelop her campaign last week. There is even guarded hope that Ohio may finally prove to be Clinton's firewall in the delegate race, as her campaign aides boasted two months ago. “I think she's turned it around by being more real and showing her true self instead of just going through the motions,” said Matt Hicks, 46. "She hit a turning point last week, and now she’s fighting her way back."
The weather has been truly terrible all across Ohio today, with ice storms in Cleveland, driving rain in Columbus and flooding across the southern part of state. Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner is working with election officials across the state to assure that polling places stay open and accessible, Strickland said.
The impact of the weather is difficult to predict. Clinton typically performs better among older voters and senior citizens, who may be more likely to stay home in inclement weather. On the other hand, Obama's fortunes depend on his ability to recruit and mobilize his own grassroots base that is independent of the Democratic Party establishment, which in Ohio has largely supported Clinton. Whether he can mobilize his effective Get Out the Vote machine in such terrible conditions remains to be seen.