Monday, June 2, 2008

Clinton's continued battles scares Democrats

WASHINGTON - Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton won another overwhelming victory over Senator Barack Obama on Sunday — this time in Puerto Rico — even as many Democrats, including some of her supporters, suggested it would be best if she dropped her threat to battle on past the end of the primary voting on Tuesday.

"There's nobody taking Hillary's side but Hillary people," said Donald Fowler of South Carolina, a former national party chairman and one of Clinton's most prominent supporters, referring to her campaign's suggestions that she might seek to challenge the way the party resolved the fight this weekend over seating the Michigan and Florida delegations. "It's too bad. She deserves better than this."

In a telephone interview Sunday from San Juan, Puerto Rico, Clinton still raised the possibility that she would challenge the party's decision on seating those delegates. "Well, we are going to look at that and make a determination at some point," she said. "But I haven't made any decision at this time."

Heading toward what is shaping up as something less than a triumphant moment of victory as the voting draws to a close, Obama spent Sunday in South Dakota for a last-minute schedule of campaigning. He was in the state, which will vote along with Montana on Tuesday to complete the primary season, trying to thwart a last-minute effort by Clinton to pull out a victory there and build her case that she would be the stronger candidate in the general election.

Still, Obama showed little doubt that he considered the primary phase of his march to the White House over. His stop in Mitchell, a town of 15,500 where he drew more than 2,200, was to be his last campaign stop in a primary state. From there, he headed to Michigan and Minnesota.

Obama himself remarked on the moment, calling the rally in Mitchell "a good way to end my campaign in the primary phase," and dusting off an old campaign story that had been part of his repertory in New Hampshire and Iowa and was the genesis of his "Fired Up: Ready to Go" campaign call-and-response. And Obama told voters that he had called Clinton to congratulate her on her victory in Puerto Rico and said that she would be a "great asset" in the fall. The dimensions of Clinton's challenge were underlined as two more superdelegates signed on to Obama.

Clinton won by 2 to 1 in Puerto Rico, where she seemed to revel in a weekend of campaigning even as her surrogates fought in Washington to keep her campaign alive.

The victory — coming among Hispanic voters, who are a key constituency in the fall election — underscored a constant source of frustration among Clinton and her supporters: that her strong finish over the past months, with big victories among blue-collar voters, have shown no signs of pushing uncommitted superdelegates into her camp.

"Most Clinton supporters are filled with bewilderment that this is happening," said Governor Edward Rendell of Pennsylvania. "We are willing to go on, and we understand the inevitability of this, but we are filled with disappointment and amazement: Why haven't these results caused the superdelegates to come around?"

Clinton, in the interview, in a new television advertisement and in her victory speech in San Juan, laid out why superdelegates should rally around her. She argued that by the time the final vote is counted, she will have more popular votes than Obama, an assertion that has been disputed.

"I think it will be most likely the case in a few days," Clinton said from San Juan. "I will have won the most votes — more than anyone in the history of the primary process."

She added: "Senator Obama has a narrow lead in delegates. And we're going to have to make our case to the automatic so-called superdelegates. And I think my case is clear — more than 17 million people voted for me.

"In recent primary history, we have never nominated someone who has not won the popular vote."

Clinton's count includes Michigan, where Obama's name was not on the ballot, and it does not include some caucus states won by Obama and where the popular vote was not reported. Obama's campaign gently pushed back at her assertions that she had won the popular vote.

"Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have gotten more votes than any presidential campaign in primary history," said Bill Burton, Obama's spokesman. "We are, however, ahead in the popular vote now and suspect will be ahead when all of the votes are counted Tuesday. That's not taking anything away from what she's accomplished. It's just a fact."

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