The Democratic Convention: Long road to Clinton coronation - The Democrats meet in New York this week to endorse the man they are coming to believe can oust George Bush from the White House

PERHAPS it is one of those gritty, resonant metaphors of the South which Bill Clinton can occasionally produce, that best sums up his road to coronation. The primary campaign in New Hampshire last February was in its final days. The air was thick and thunderous with allegations about Gennifer Flowers and the Vietnam draft. His poll ratings were plunging, hardly an expert gave him a prayer. Clinton appeared before his supporters, exhausted but somehow still defiant. 'I'm going to fight,' he said, 'until the last dog dies.'

And die they did. One by one his rivals dropped out as the primary trail wound on across the parched and thankless political landscape of America, eliminated by lack of votes, lack of will and lack of money. Only Jerry Brown remained, snapping at Clinton's heels right through to the end. By then, however, it was too late. Clinton was to lose New Hampshire to former Senator Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts, the first outsider to feature in this baffling election cycle. But so low were expectations that a decent second place was a moral victory. The self-proclaimed 'Come-back Kid' was born.

Thereafter he lost precious little else. Over the next three months Clinton would score more victories (32) than any Democratic candidate in history, and a greater share of the total primary vote (52 per cent). But you would hardly have guessed it. When he dragged himself over the finishing line on 2 June in California, Clinton mathematically assured himself the nomination. But the last dog was bloodied, weary and all but obscured by the season's ultimate outsider sensation, Ross Perot.

How different it had been at the beginning, on an October day in Little Rock that still smelt of summer, when the bands played and a handsome young Governor of Arkansas declared his candidacy for the greatest prize in politics. Bill Clinton seemed then the answer to his party's prayers. He was moderate, he had an eager mind and bright ideas and, at his best, a charisma unmatched by any Democratic contender since the Kennedys. A Southerner, he was credited with the best chance of breaking the Republican's stranglehold on a region which had handed them the White House in five of the last six elections.

But suddenly a honeymoon became a nightmare. In January two hammerblows landed which would have felled a lesser man in a stronger field: the adultery allegations of Gennifer Flowers, which Clinton denied but never entirely convincingly, and even more serious charges that he had manoeuvred to evade the Vietnam draft while a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford - again refuted, but again less than convincingly. Clinton's brief aura of electability was shattered. And if that were not enough, he faced in Paul Tsongas a rival who combined economic 'realism' with liberal social views. The upmarket 'Volvo' vote went to Tsongas, forcing Clinton to wage a campaign for the union, blue-collar and minority votes, a return to the past from which he once represented so appealing a break. With a combination of political professionalism, good organisation and sheer willpower, he prevailed. Within a month of this New Hampshire triumph, Tsongas too had bowed out. But the party's embrace of Clinton was only luke-warm.

The sensational advent of Ross Perot, which for a while seemed Clinton's nemesis, may yet prove his salvation. What went before has been if not forgotten, at least obscured. The spiteful name-calling between Perot and Bush has helped lift him in the polls to a three-way tie. He goes into the New York convention this week with an opportunity granted to few politicians: to re-invent himself and re-introduce himself to a watching nation. He has seized the chance.

The Clinton unduly beholden to blacks and other minorities has been banished by a public row with Jesse Jackson. In choosing Senator Albert Gore of Tennessee as his running mate, and driving through an eminently moderate convention platform, he has sent the clearest possible signal that he will fight the election to regain the lost centre. On his side too is youth. Intangible but all-pervasive is the feeling that this is a moment when the torch of power should be passed to a new generation. If Clinton can overcome his tendency to pander, and his preference for bland compromise over painful choice, he could yet win. In the cruellest, most important race of all, Clinton could be the last dog standing in the contest not only for his party, but for his sceptical, disenchanted country as well.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea