Computerised counting is the death of hope. Almost before the polls had shut their doors in North Carolina, the results were flowing in, and Obama had won it handily.

The result is 57% to 43% on current estimates, which is a bad result for Hills. She was always almost certain to lose this one, but beating Obama back to a win of under 5 or even 7% would have been a result of sorts. Fourteen per cent is a serious loss, riding outside of just about all the polling predictions, and relying on far more than the black vote in the state.

Nor was there much better news from the north. With 80% of the votes counted, Clinton is holding Obama to a mere 4% loss – 54 to 48 – and it may come in from that, for reasons explained below. She really needed to demolish Obama in this more conservative industrial working class state, and show that he wouldn’t appeal to the swinging middle ground, likely to take umbrage at Obama’s perceived elitism etc. That she could only get a 4% margin after weeks of chucking down shots in every gimcrack tavern, choked down a colon busting brace of meaty ethnic food, and sucking up to every populist idea that came along, is an indication that actually, she just can’t swing it.

However … the result as it stands is not enough of a disappointment for a continuing Clinton campaign to look ridiculous or forlorn – nor for anyone close to her to tell her to gracefully walk the plank. Hillary is yet to emerge – Obama has given a rousing speech in response to the North Carolina result – but I will be gobsmacked if she withdraws, now or in the next couple of days, on the basis of these results.

The talk in Camp Clinton will now turn again to the seating of the Michigan and Florida delegates – the primaries whose delegates were disallowed because the state moved the primaries forward in contravention of the rules – notwithstanding the distortion of those votes by the chaos of the process. Clinton’s people will/are claiming that, once these results are factored in, Hillary has the majority of Democrat voters – leaving out the tiny fact that Hillary’s was the only name on the Michigan ballot. That won’t stop her going on with it like a train, in the knowledge that she simply has to keep an argument – any argument – going, that somehow has an issue not merely of electability, but also of legitimacy. She just needs to keep talking, because she has known since Texas/Ohio that only some sort of coup at the convention will settle it in her favour. Survival not victory is her aim at the moment, and victory is survival.

Survival may be in question because of a wrinkle in the Indiana contest. One county is refusing to release its results until it has counted all its absentee ballots. The kicker? It’s Lake County in the state’s northwest, which includes much of what has become the Chicago sprawl – their western suburbs in Sydney/Melbourne terms. At its centre is the city of Gary, named after the ruthless owner of the steel mill it was built around in the early 20th century. A focus for black migration from the South at the time – and a home of the electric blues – Gary is the city to visit if you want to see industrial decline. Three hundred thousand strong at its height, it’s down to about a hundred thousand, and before some recent half hearted urban renewal, the only American city I have ever seen that could give Bucharest a run for its money in the squalor and decay stakes.

The crowd is exactly the sort of people Obama was speaking to during his years as a community organiser, and his basic message may appeal there. On the other hand it’s an old strong union town, and Hillary’s old-skool populism may hit a note. The horror for Hillary is that if Obama can get 57% in Lake County then her victory will be reversed and he will take a narrow victory there.

Lake County isn’t expected to report until midnight in the Hoosier state (4pm AEST), so Hillary has been holding off speaking.

She began addressing the crowd about 9.45pm in Indiana, quoting back Obama’s statement that ‘Hillary would win Pennsylvania, I’ll win North Carolina, and Indiana will be the tie-breaker’, which gave her scope to claim victory on that basis, promising to roll on to the nomination, before launching into the Norman Rockwell sugar-rush American speech she’s perfected of late.

Presumably she has some good inside polling knowledge on how Gary did vote, to be coming out this hard and fast. But if the lake County returns do pull the result back, she will then have to find a whole other line to push, of the ‘a one point victory is still a victory’ sort of thing. With Bill standing behind her like a florid, whitehaired lurch, she is pulling no emotional punches, winding up with a plea for the victims of the cyclone in Burma, whose primary is coming up in early August.

But for now, in the words of CNN political analyst Samuel Beckett, “go on go on I can’t go on … I go on.”

We go on…

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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