From NBC's Ron Allen
These days, it can feel a bit strange being in the Hillary Clinton press caravan.
The morning newspaper headlines scream about how she should cash it all in, how the race is over. Magazine covers proclaim Barack Obama the winner. We all read the polls. We all do the math. We all think we're pretty smart.
It can feel a bit odd to carry those newspapers and all of those thoughts onto her press plane and watch her cheerfully appear there up front, ready to take on another day, never showing any hint of doubt. Nothing at all suggests it's not just yet another day on the long march to the nomination.
But while watching her, questioning her, and listening to her give speech after speech to crowds of passionate supporters, you can't help but wonder what is she really thinking? Only she, and perhaps a few people very close, know.
She has to be upset, disappointed, anyone would be but angry? How would you feel if you had your eyes on a promotion at the office, had worked real hard, had the experience, had paid the dues, and then someone younger and less experienced, someone you'd given advice to, mentored a bit, came along and ruined your dream?
Colleagues, and even friends and relatives, ask when we're coming home? When will she drop out? The answer from the campaign's point of view is that we're going all the way to Denver in August perhaps, until there's a nominee. How can that square with those headlines saying it's over?
They're planning for Oregon and Kentucky next week. We're off to South Dakota before that. At the same time, we know Obama is heading to Michigan and Florida. We know he probably will proclaim "victory" with a majority of pledged delegates after Oregon.
Meanwhile, Clinton's aides still talk about how "electability" is all that really matters -- and those swing voters, swing states, and even swing superdelegates. Heard that last one for the first time on the day Obama took the superdelegate lead.
Ultimately, of course, the question is how can you be more electable than someone you can't beat in most of the elections you've competed in head to head? Isn't the score 31 to 16? (with Texas for neither candidate).
Still, Clinton presses on in West Virginia. She tells crowds that every Democratic nominee has carried the state since 1976, and no Democrat has won the White House since 1916 without the state. Will a big win here, and the logic of history, trump all that's gone before it?
Someone said it's a bit like a marathon runner who is determined to complete the entire 26-mile course. I've never done it. But I've seen the joy and satisfaction and even pain on the faces of those runners finishing hours after the winner -- competing on their own terms.
A couple of days ago, I ran into a friend who's an entrepreneur, with a business a few years old.
"Of course," she said, Clinton should continue to the end. She then then pointed out that there were many doubters along her way from that first business idea to a successful enterprise who just knew it would all end in failure.
You have to follow your dreams as far as possible, she advised, and then headed off to a staff meeting. Business is quite good. Good thing she didn't quit. But then again, another editorial today was certain Clinton should get out for the good of the party, or for her own good.
At a farmer's market in Charleston, W.V., on primary day, Clinton wears that ever-optimistic smile, shakes every hand in sight, poses for pictures with anyone and everyone. She's a star! They absolutely love her.
"She looks shorter than on TV."
"I'm standing two feet from her," a man tells someone on his cell phone who probably doesn't believe him.
"Keep going, keep going," urges a woman almost tugging on her arm.
Maybe I'm wrong, but I think she will do just that -- at least until every state has voted. I think she wants the satisfaction of finishing the race, especially since so many are saying she shouldn't.
Clinton often tells a story about playing girl's basketball in elementary school. No one was allowed to cross half court. You either played offense or defense -- three-on-three. You were only allowed three dribbles. Why? The answer was something vague, she says, about how playing like the boys would be bad for girls' hearts, or something.
I sense the senator is now determined to finish this game, by her own rules, and regardless of what the boys have to say.