If a tree falls in the forest when everybody expects it to fall, does it make a sound?
Yes, says Hillary Clinton. It makes a deafening roar, says Hillary Clinton.
SHE WON THE WEST VIRGINIA PRIMARY BY A KAZILLION PERCENTAGE POINTS TUESDAY NIGHT, AND THAT, SHE SAYS, HAS TO MEAN SOMETHING!
Except the press doesn't think so. The press is unimpressed. This may be the first time in election history in which the press has withdrawn from a race before the candidate.
As John Harwood of the New York Times and CNBC said on MSNBC Tuesday several hours before the polls closed, "The headline tomorrow will be: 'Hillary Clinton Wins Big in West Virginia; Democratic Party Yawns.'"
Wrong! says the Clinton campaign. The party is not yawning, the party is finally waking up to the fact that Barack Obama is a loser!
As Howard Wolfson, Clinton's communications director, said Tuesday: "I think superdelegates who have been moving toward Barack Obama in the last week are going to wake up tomorrow and say, 'I'm a little concerned about the fact that our nominee, presumptive nominee, can't win West Virginia. I'm a little concerned that he can't win Pennsylvania or Ohio, or Michigan, or Florida.'"
To which the Obama campaign says: "What, us worry?"
Obama, who made only two trips to West Virginia, is doing the equivalent of flicking dust from his shoulders. He didn't even bother making a concession speech Tuesday night. He was campaigning in Missouri instead.
Missouri is a state he already won in the primaries, but that was the point: He doesn't care about primaries anymore. Actual voters casting ballots? That is so yesterday.
As everyone knows, the Democratic nomination is determined not by voters actually voting, but by superdelegates choosing whomever they please. (They are the Democratic Party's equivalent of the Electoral College, a safeguard against too much democracy. Unlike the Electoral College, however, superdelegates were not created in the 18th century but in 1984.)
What counts to Obama is that since his victory in North Carolina and narrow loss in Indiana last week, he has picked up 27 superdelegates and Clinton has picked up one and a half.
Roy R. Romer, a former governor of Colorado, a former Democratic Party chairman and a superdelegate, endorsed Obama on Tuesday, saying: "The math is controlling. This race, I believe, is over."
Why did Romer decide to back Obama? Obama's health care plan or his policy on Iraq or his position on the Alternative Minimum Tax? Naw.
"I watched all of these primaries and caucus states and decided Barack Obama was the most electable," Romer said. Which is what superdelegates, the party insiders, were created to do: make cold calculations instead of giving their hearts away.
His calculations are wrong, says the Clinton campaign. He doesn't realize that Obama has all these problems: He can't win working-class voters, he can't win voters who lack college degrees, he can't win all sorts of voting groups that Democrats need to win in this fall. (And he has trouble with white voters in certain states: An incredible 20 percent of white voters in West Virginia said race was a factor in their vote, according to exit polls, a percentage second only to that of Mississippi.)
The Obama campaign has three answers to this: First, just because Obama loses a voting bloc in a primary does not mean he will lose the same group in the general election. The Democratic base is going to vote for the Democratic nominee no matter who it is. And among general election voters, Obama aides say, Obama is doing just fine. (And, besides, no Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson has won the white vote, anyway.)
"Put your brains back in your head and look at the national polls instead of local, primary polls," a senior Obama aide told me Tuesday in a phone interview. "In national polls, we win every income group against John McCain except those people making $100,000-plus, where we lose by one point, which is a tie.
"Among white, non-college voters, McCain leads Obama 52-40 and he leads Clinton 52-44. A four-point difference between us and Clinton, well within the margin of error.
"Overall in head-to-head matchups, we are beating McCain by more than she is. And, most importantly, we are winning independents 51-42 against McCain, and Clinton loses independents 49-46 against McCain. Se we are plus nine among independents and she is minus three."
Obama's second argument is that the slicing and dicing of the electorate into neat little groups misses what he is about: He is unifying figure. He represents change, he says, and he will attract the votes of people who want change, regardless of the neat boxes that pollsters put them in.
Third, Obama believes he is the victim of a dirty trick. He used that phrase. And all he needs to do, he believes, is get the truth out in order to build his numbers.
He was at Schultzie's Billiards in South Charleston, W. Va., on Monday when a reporter asked, "How problematic are those rumors ... that you don't pledge allegiance, that you're a Muslim? They are out there."
Obama replied, "They've been out there since the beginning of this campaign. This is something that has been systematically fed into the bloodstream. We notice these e-mails get sent out in each successive state that we were campaigning in, which indicates that it is not just a random sort of viral thing. I think you know this is a dirty trick that folks are playing on voters."
As an antidote to dirty tricks, Obama stated once again that he is a Christian.
Given the long odds of actually defeating Obama, however, why does Clinton keep running?
Because, she said, Tuesday night, "I am more determined than ever to carry on this campaign until everyone has had a chance to make their voices heard."
She has no alternative. Just as sharks swim in order to breathe, candidates run in order to exist.