“I would say that a lot of the online political operatives who are liberal were holding out hope for Obama, and they have sort of come to the conclusion that he is not the candidate they thought he was,” said Mr. Gooltz, who, like Mr. Wojciechowski, has recently upgraded Mrs. Clinton to second place in his candidate lineup, while downgrading Mr. Obama to third our fourth. “A lot of liberals were hoping he was going to be a somewhat more aggressive progressive.”
Into this void, the Clinton campaign stepped—or, perhaps more accurately, inched and elbowed its way with a series of canny gestures toward the liberal base. These gestures were not of the sweeping “End the War Now” or “Gay Marriage for All” variety. Instead they tended to be subtle: One moment she was voting against censuring Move On, the next her deputy, Howard Wolfson, was defending Yearly Kos, the annual ingathering of the liberal-blogger tribes, against attacks by Bill O’Reilly.
Craig Kaplan, a Manhattan lawyer and longtime donor to liberal Democrats, has not decided to support her yet. But several weeks ago, he came to the conclusion that he might actually want her to win the nomination. The reason? He feels she is the only Democratic candidate who can overcome the Code Red–level threat of a Rudolph Giuliani presidency.
“You have to ask which of the candidates is least likely to lose or most likely to win against Rudy Giuliani,” he said. “In my judgment, this is most likely Hillary Clinton. Therefore, while ideologically and perhaps emotionally I would love to see Edwards win Iowa, the narrower tactical head says, I want a Hillary sweep.”
Even among supporters of other candidates, there seems to be a recognition that the perception of Hillary as the last bulwark against Mr. Giuliani—or Mitt Romney, or John McCain or Fred Thompson—is metastasizing.
As one Obama supporter put it: “Eventually people are going to say, ‘look, I’m going to vote for whoever can beat what I see as a bunch of evil men [who] are going to continue the legacy of George Bush.’”
Yet even before Democrats can make this calculation, they have had to contend with another, more potent force driving them to stop resisting Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy. It’s the idea—or tautology, really—that Hillary Clinton’s primary victory is inevitable and so one might as well vote for her or, at least, resign oneself to her sooner rather than later.
The Clinton campaign has worked hard to cultivate this notion, and several Obama and Edwards supporters have accused the press of helping promote the idea (with articles, for instance, like this one). More recently, certain “facts on the ground,” like the Oct. 3 Washington Post/ABC News poll giving Mrs. Clinton a 33-point lead nationally over her nearest rival, Mr. Obama, have helped lend the appearance of substance to the theory.
The fallout was obvious at the most recent gathering of Drinking Liberally, a weekly mixer dedicated, as its motto says, to “promoting democracy one pint at a time.”
“Personally, I prefer Edwards, but there’s no way he’ll ever get the nomination,” said Charles, a 24-year-old liberal drinker and research assistant at a local nonprofit, as he sat in the backyard of the theater district dive, Rudy’s Bar and Grill. He had a sharp, gunpowder voice that he used to enumerate his disagreements with Mrs. Clinton, and one could imagine him standing at the barricades in another era. As it was, he wasn’t planning to vote for her in the primary, but declared himself resigned to the outcome. “I know Hillary is going to get it,” he said. “It’s a foregone conclusion.”
His friend Adam fidgeted with an empty beer cup. Then, after a brief search for the right words, he said quietly, “If it’s going to be Hillary, I guess I’m O.K. with that. But if it was my choice, I guess I would choose somebody else.”