It’s a day before Pennsylvania holds its Democratic primary and I am off to what has become a recurring assignment in this election year: the Hillary Clinton death watch.
The conventional wisdom is that Clinton will be forced to drop out of the race for the Democratic nomination if she loses Pennsylvania. The polls show Barack Obama closing in, but I’ve been on this story before and Clinton always manages to survive.
I spend the morning in the Guardian office in Washington doing an election story for the web. I update the post-mortem on Clinton’s campaign again – but by this point I don’t think it will ever be used.
Then I get into my rental car, whose satellite navigation system, bizarrely, calls out directions in an Australian accent, and head for the small town of Ebensburg in the Allegheny mountains in Pennsylvania.
The timing is tricky. I want to produce something to appear in Wednesday’s print editions of The Guardian that won’t look dated by the primary results overnight. Polls close around the same time as the last print edition, so we will only be able to report the primary results on the web on Tuesday night.
I’ve decided to take a look at Bill Clinton, who has been banished to the backwoods of Pennsylvania after being the cause of too many damaging sideshows in his wife’s campaign.
I spend the time waiting for Bill Clinton to arrive chatting with people in the crowd. Bill is on his best behaviour and I drive on to Philadelphia. The GPS tells me the journey will take four hours – a lot longer than I expected.
It’s after midnight when I reach the hotel and C-SPAN is showing footage of Barack Obama’s final rally in Pittsburgh that night. Michelle Obama is looking glum – do they already know something? Am I going to be writing another Clinton comeback story after all?
Well, Bill was on his best behaviour when I saw him in Ebensburg, but while I’ve been writing up my story he has created a new controversy. He told a local radio station in Philadelphia that the Obama camp used race against him – and then denied saying anything of the kind. I rearrange my story and file. In the afternoon I run into a contact from the Clinton campaign who insists it will be a 10-point win.
8pm and close of polls. The television stations have held off declaring a winner, but at the swanky hotel ballroom in Philadelphia where Hillary Clinton is holding her election night party, campaign officials seem utterly serene. Terry McAuliffe, her campaign manager, is grinning from ear to ear. So Hillary Clinton survived another near-death experience. She emerges after 10pm for a speech which is all about how she is never going to quit. By this point, I don’t need much convincing of that. I run back to my room to file.
I’m just about to fall into bed when I remember: podcast. I talk into a microphone about the election results and send it to The Guardian, where it will be picked up when the audio team comes in the next morning.
Clinton is carpeting the morning television shows – six interviews by 8am. I’m hunting for a fresh news line. Yes, Clinton has come back from the dead yet again in Pennsylvania, but it doesn’t significantly improve her very slim chances of winning the Democratic nomination. My colleague, Ewen MacAskill, and I decide to lead on Obama, and what the defeat says about his ability to connect with white working class voters. I drop off my car and take the train back to Washington DC.
After running a two-page spread on the Pennsylvania election, we need to keep the story going in Friday’s editions. But Obama has taken the day off, and both campaigns have decided to pass on the regular conference call with reporters. Then PBS television releases an early partial transcript of an interview that will air on Friday with Obama’s pastor, Jeremiah Wright. That will work.
The White House correspondents dinner is meant to be the grown-up Washington reporter’s version of the high school prom, and there are more than 2,000 people milling around the lower ground floor of a hotel in black tie and evening gowns. There is always a contingent of Hollywood stars mixed in with the hacks and politicos – though the glamour quota is a little reduced this year as it’s so near the end of George Bush’s presidency.
We linger near the red carpet when we hear some teenage girls screaming for one of the arriving stars. It turns out to be CNN’s veteran interviewer, Larry King. Everybody’s a celebrity these days.
Suzanne Goldenberg is the author of Madam President: Is America Ready to Send Hillary Clinton to the White House? published by Guardian Books