When Bill Clinton was on the ropes over the Monica Lewinsky scandal in 1999, Hillary Clinton famously alleged that her husband was the victim of a “vast right-wing conspiracy”.
On Sunday, Richard Mellon Scaife, whom many Clinton supporters see as the personification of that “conspiracy”, came very close to endorsing her embattled candidacy, writing of his “very favourable” impression of her.
In a piece for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, a newspaper owned by Mr Scaife, the billionaire heir to the Mellon family oil and aluminium fortune delivered the latest bizarre twist to a race that has consistently made mincemeat of conventional wisdom.
It coincided with Mrs Clinton’s emphatic rejection, in an interview with the Washington Post yesterday, of speculation she would cave in to calls for her to withdraw from the race for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination.
Mrs Clinton, who is unlikely to overtake Barack Obama in the popular vote in the remaining primaries, said that if necessary she would take her nomination battle to the Democratic convention in late August, where it would be resolved by the unelected “super-delegates” whose decision will ultimately settle the race.
“I know there are some people who want to shut this down and I think they are wrong,” said Mrs Clinton. “I have no intention of stopping until we finish what we started…and if we don’t resolve it, we’ll resolve it at the convention.”
Any doubts Clinton critics may have had about her determination to stick at it may also have been put to rest by her decision to speak to Mr Scaife’s hostile paper last week – the political equivalent of walking into a lion’s den.
Mr Scaife, who is known for his personal hatred of the Clintons, funded media projects that variously accused the Clintons of murdering Vincent Foster, a White House aide who committed suicide in 1993, of carrying out drug-running operations out of Arkansas and of indulging in large-scale financial corruption.
But in his opinion piece on Sunday, Mr Scaife appeared to have been transformed into a purring lion.
Mrs Clinton spent 90 minutes taking the newspaper’s questions last week. Along with the rest of Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh will vote on April 22 – the next and largest of the remaining 10 contests to be held.
“Walking into our conference room, not knowing what to expect, took courage and confidence,” wrote Mr Scaife. “Not many politicians have political or personal courage today…I have a very different impression of Hillary Clinton today than before last Tuesday’s meeting – and it’s a very favourable one indeed.”
With three weeks to go before the Pennsylvania vote, Clinton supporters are revelling in a sense of defiance against what they describe as a consistent media bias in favour of Mr Obama.
Leading politicians are increasingly joining with liberal bloggers and newspaper columnists in calling for Mrs Clinton to withdraw from the race to minimise the damage to Mr Obama’s chances in a fight with John McCain, the Republicans’ presidential candidate.
They say Mr McCain is already beginning to undo his hitherto chronic financial disadvantage since, unlike his Democratic rivals, he is free to raise money solely for the general election. And they point out that the party that chooses its nominee earliest has a historic advantage in the general election. But Mr Obama has refrained from joining that chorus.
On Saturday he said that Mrs Clinton had every right to stay in the battle. After Pennsylvania there will be nine more contests – including North Carolina and Indiana on May 6 and finishing with South Dakota and Montana on June 3.
Taking Mrs Clinton at her word means the race still has at least nine weeks to run and probably longer. A number of senior Democrats, including Howard Dean, chairman of the national party, have called for a vote of super-delegates in June.
By Edward Luce in Washington