John Baer: Now that she can't win it, why is Hill in it?

EVEN SOME Hillary Clinton supporters must, at this stage, question why she pushes on the way she does.

Despite her landslide-without-reward win in West Virginia and her expected win next week in Kentucky, all factors determining the Democratic nominee still favor Barack Obama.

True, there are those blinded by love or loyalty.

Gov. Rendell, for example, whom I shared a brief chat with on this topic, continues to insist, "She's winning."

Sure, if you don't count pledged delegates, superdelegates, states won, the popular vote, national polls or common sense.

And there she was Tuesday night in Charleston: "I am the strongest candidate . . . this race isn't over yet."

Actually, it is.

So why is she still at it? Money, clout and a possible "Obama-shell."

Money first.

Having driven her campaign deep into debt (an acknowledged $20 million) and loaning it $11.4 million, Clinton faces a federal deadline to get contributions to pay herself back.

Under the so-called "millionaires' amendment" to the 2002 federal campaign-finance law, a candidate for president cannot raise funds to repay personal loans after the election in which the candidate runs.

Since the "election" in question is the nomination, Clinton has until the August convention to raise funds to repay her loans.

(Had she GIVEN her campaign the money, she could never use contributions to repay herself.)

"It's to discourage self-financing. It was designed to discourage the rich from lending their campaigns money and then raising money for months or years to pay themselves back," says Steve Weissman of the Campaign Finance Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group in Washington.

So staying in the race and soliciting funds (as she did during her Tuesday-night victory speech) means she can use whatever she raises now to offset her personal loans.

And, yeah, I know Bill could get it all back with a year of speeches or another book, but it still seems like a motivator to me.

Her clout?

Staying in and staying close means she goes to Denver with more say in every aspect of the convention, the campaign and, if Obama is elected, the next administration.

"She wants leverage for future policy, future positions, an open door," says Ray La Raja, assistant professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. "She wants to maximize her leverage."

Couldn't she command influence now?

"Well, maybe they're bargaining right now," says La Raja, "and maybe she's not getting what she wants."

(I'm not discussing the VP thing. I don't see it - period.)

An "Obamashell"?

There's buzz about something out there that Republicans are sitting on that hurts Obama in the fall, and the Clintons (a) haven't found it or (b) haven't found a way to leak it without getting blamed.

Doesn't make sense. If there were something else, the Clintons would have it and use it.

I mean, she's a candidate who said Obama isn't a Muslim "as far as I know;" who publicly touts attracting "white working Americans;" who still counts Michigan a win even though Obama wasn't on the ballot, and who makes up new numbers (she now says it takes 2,209 delegates instead of 2,025) and math to claim the nomination even as Obama gets closer to it.

I know for many of Clinton's supporters, especially older women, her candidacy is highly important.

But her ("I'm in it to win it") effort so often seems more about her than anything else.

Her campaign lost any nobility it might have had somewhere after Super Tuesday in February, and has since traded any semblance of dignity for any opportunity to win.

I'm not saying she should get out. I'm saying we should recognize why she's still in. *

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