The day after Easter of my freshman year in college, my father's drugstore on Canandaigua's South Main Street caught fire. It began in an upstairs room of the bar and grill next door. A fellow was smoking in bed.
The day after Easter of my freshman year in college, my father's drugstore caught fire. It began in an upstairs room of the bar and grill next door. A fellow was smoking in bed.
There was a firewall between the two buildings, which was supposed to protect the store from damage. But the fire didn't know that. The flames raced along that wall, sneaked in through the front and burned my dad's place to the ground.
Sen. Hillary Clinton and her staff view this coming Tuesday's primaries in Texas and Ohio as her firewall. She hopes the two states will stave off Sen. Barack Obama's streak of 11 victories in a row and protect her presidential campaign from total immolation.
Polls show her still ahead in Ohio and in a statistical dead heat with Obama in Texas.
But if this week's New York Times/CBS News and USA Today national surveys are any indication, by March 4, Clinton's firewall — and her candidacy — could wind up as nothing but a bucket of ashes. As longtime Clinton adviser James Carville told a Florida paper and CNN last week, "If she loses either Texas or Ohio, this thing is done."
Or not. Even if she's defeated soundly in Ohio and Texas, she's counting on yet another kind of firewall, and therein lies a potential danger that could jeopardize the Democrats' chances at taking back the White House and increasing its majorities in Congress.
The way events continue to evolve, to get the delegates either candidate needs for the nomination, Clinton or Obama must receive the votes of a large number of the party's superdelegates — 795 men and women who will be at the August convention in Denver not because they were chosen via the primary or caucus system, but because they hold office in government or the Democratic Party.
Clinton strategists see the superdelegates as a final firewall, believing many of the superdelegates — even some committed to Obama — are susceptible to persuasion.
After all, many of them owe their positions to the largesse of the Bill Clinton presidency. Pressure would be brought to bear.
But cash talks, too. According to a new report from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, "While it would be unseemly for the candidates to hand out thousands of dollars to primary voters, or to the delegates pledged to represent the will of those voters, elected officials who are superdelegates have received at least $904,200 from Obama and Clinton in the form of campaign contributions over the last three years. ...
"Obama, who narrowly leads in the count of pledged, 'non-super' delegates, has doled out more than $698,200 to superdelegates from his political action committee or campaign committee since 2005. ... (Hillary Clinton's) PAC, and campaign committee appear to have distributed $205,500 to superdelegates. ...
"In cases where superdelegates had received contributions from both Clinton and Obama, all seven elected officials who received more money from Clinton have committed to her. Thirty-four of the 43 superdelegates who received more money from Obama, or 79 percent, are backing him."
Yet many believe that backrooms filled with smoke and dollar-laden powerbrokers won't be a decisive factor.
"If you're going to use your best judgment," congressman and superdelegate Charles Rangel told the New York Daily News, "you've got to take into consideration what your constituents are saying" and endorse whoever has the most primary and caucus delegates.
But superdelegates aren't the only targets. Sen. Clinton also is trying to get the party to recognize delegates she won in Florida and Michigan — even though both states' delegations have been disqualified because their primaries were held early, in violation of party rules.
What's more, although the Clinton campaign denies it, according to Politico.com columnist Roger Simon, writing on Feb. 19, "Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign intends to go after delegates whom Barack Obama has already won in the caucuses and primaries if she needs them to win the nomination."
So there are complicated scenarios in which Sen. Clinton could emerge victorious, but it would be an ugly, ugly win, harmful to the Democrats and their November prospects.
Depending on next week's primary results, it could be time to bring this nomination process to a close, and to do so with class, dignity and an astute awareness of and sensitivity to national and party priorities.
Michael Winship, a native of Canandaigua, is a freelance television writer in Manhattan and president of the Writers Guild of America, East.