Clinton continues her impossible quest

The day of campaigning had barely begun and Hillary Rodham Clinton was already eyeing the whiskey.

The Democrat wasn’t drowning her sorrows, she was touring Kentucky’s Maker’s Mark distillery as she soldiers on despite a difficult week. Her opponent, Barack Obama, continues to draw more Democratic forces into his camp and has largely ignored her while tussling with certain Republican nominee John McCain in a general election-style dispute over foreign policy.

But Clinton is acting as though the nomination is still within her grasp, beginning a multi-day swing through Kentucky on Saturday with a tour of the famous distillery in Loretto, where its first bottle of bourbon whiskey was created in the 1950s. Perhaps she is hoping for a replay in Kentucky of the election boost her much-publicized shot of whiskey gave her last month in Pennsylvania, where she won the primary.

This time around, Clinton put on gloves and safety goggles and joined the assembly line to dip a bottle of whiskey in Maker’s trademark red wax coating, saving the drinking for later.

“There are some people who have been saying for months that this is over, and every time they say it, the voters come back and say, ‘Oh no it’s not, we’re not ready for it to be over,'” Clinton told supporters as she stood on a stage in front of a stack of whiskey barrels.

“You don’t quit on people and you don’t quit until you finish what you started, and you don’t quit on America.”

Clinton began her day in Kentucky on just a few hours of sleep following a redeye flight from Portland that landed at 5 a.m. She boarded the flight after a day of campaigning in Oregon, which votes Tuesday along with Kentucky. Known for her ability to catch up on cat-nap sleep just about anywhere, Clinton rarely seems as exhausted as she must be, although sometimes it shows.

As she began to sign her name on the wall at a cannoli bakery in Salem, Ore., on Friday, Clinton paused for a moment with her black marker in the air and turned toward the press crowded around her to ask what day it was.

Later that evening, during a televised town hall meeting in Portland, she was asked to describe the high and low points of the campaign.

The best times, she said, are whenever her daughter Chelsea joins her on the trail. The low point, she said, “is just being sleep-deprived and trying to get to more places than there are hours in the day to possibly cover.”

“But every day something happens that really convinces me how important this is, and energizes me,” she added.

Clinton is hoping for a big win in Kentucky, and plans to campaign here every day until the primary. The state’s demographics resemble neighboring West Virginia, which gave her a much-needed victory last week.

Both states are overwhelmingly white, rural and have more residents below the poverty line and without college degrees than the national average — the kind of working-class voters that have helped boost Clinton to victory in other states.

But Obama is favored to win Oregon, where 52 delegates are at state — one more than Kentucky. Obama already enjoys a delegate advantage that makes it mathematically unlikely for Clinton to overtake him in the primaries, and that advantage continues to widen. Her campaign instead hopes to win over the influential party leaders and elected officials known as superdelegates with the argument that she would be the better Democrat to face McCain in November.

At another stop in Kentucky on Saturday, Clinton targeted McCain for promoting an economic agenda that she said would be “nothing less than four more years of George Bush economics.”

Clinton told a few hundred people gathered in a gymnasium at Kentucky State University in Frankfort that McCain puts special interests first and middle class families last.

The Republican National Committee retorted that Clinton was launching a “desperate” attack and would subject the country to higher taxes and spending.

It has been harder in recent days for Clinton to portray herself as McCain’s natural opponent. She was left to essentially watch from the sidelines as Obama and McCain engaged in a spat this week over how the United States should treat the leaders of rogue nations, giving the sense that a general election battle is already beginning to take shape between the two candidates.

And lately, instead of criticizing her Democratic opponent, she’s taken aim at the media and the political pundits who are counting her out.

Clinton dismisses them in a new television ad airing in Oregon. The spot features clips of political pundits as an announcer says: “In Washington, they talk about who’s up and who’s down. In Oregon, we care about what’s right and what’s wrong.”

And in her remarks in Kentucky on Saturday, she portrayed pundits and the media as out of touch elitists who have jobs and health care, and no idea what it’s like to worry about making ends meet.

“They’re not the people I’m running to be a champion for — I’m running to be a champion for all of you,” Clinton said.

She is still drawing crowds at her campaign events, but they are less raucous, and some of supporters admit they are concerned. Many remain upbeat, but are more reflective about the state of the primary race, which ends June 3 with contests in Montana and South Dakota.

As Clinton wrapped up a speech on the porch of a farmhouse in Bath, S.D., one day this week, 85-year-old Roy Heintzman said as he walked away: “I hope she’s got an ace up her sleeve. She’s going to need it.”