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CLINTON: Energizing Victories, But Difficult Delegate Math

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By Peter Baker and Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 5, 2008

As Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton raced from border towns on the Rio Grande to farm communities in the Midwest trying to salvage her troubled presidential campaign in recent days, advisers at her Arlington headquarters were awash in mixed feelings about whether she should go on.

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Decisive victories in both Ohio and Texas, they agreed, would justify staying in the race until the next big primary in Pennsylvania in seven weeks. Defeats in both of the big states would spell the end. But the prospect of a split decision or close results generated sharply different judgments from her strategists about her future.

Clinton wiped away the debate last night with a robust victory in Ohio and a narrow win in Texas. But as she vowed to keep campaigning, the tight vote in Texas signaled she may yet face a tough decision in coming weeks. The slim margin in the Texas popular vote and an additional caucus process in which she trailed made clear that she would not win enough delegates to put a major dent in Sen. Barack Obama's lead. And regardless of the results, she emerged from the crucible of Ohio and Texas with a campaign mired in debt and riven by dissension

Clinton plans to use her triumphs in Ohio and Texas, as well as in Rhode Island, to argue that she still has a credible claim to the Democratic nomination, despite the delegate math. Many in her circle believe she finally recaptured momentum on the campaign trail in recent days and managed to put Obama on the defensive by questioning his readiness to serve as commander in chief. If nothing else, they hope she has earned a new lease to make her case to the nation.

Appearing before jubilant supporters in Columbus last night, an energized Clinton seized on the Ohio victory and declared that she will go "all the way" to the White House. "Keep on watching," she said. "Together, we're going to make history."

As the results came in, aides reported that the dark mood that has clouded her campaign headquarters for weeks had finally lifted, and talk of dropping out was fading. "It means she goes on," a senior campaign strategist said on the condition of anonymity. "All the late-breaking voters went with her, and the next batch of states favor her. He is starting to get scrutiny like he has never seen before, and he is out of material to talk about on the trail."

Another Democrat who has advised her noted that Clinton and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, have made a career of refusing to give in when the establishment has counted them out. "She doesn't give up," the Democrat said. "He doesn't give up."

Critical to Clinton's prospect of victory are the superdelegates, the nearly 800 elected officials and party leaders who can vote any way they choose. Her campaign envisions what aides call a "buyer's remorse" strategy of raising enough doubts about the first-term senator from Illinois through increasingly vigorous attacks and tougher media scrutiny to convince the superdelegates that it would be too risky to nominate him.

That reflects the recognition that it would be enormously difficult for Clinton to overtake Obama in the pledged delegates chosen by voters in primaries and caucuses. By some calculations, Clinton would need to win more than 60 percent of the vote in the dozen contests remaining between now and June 7 to catch Obama in pledged delegates -- a steep challenge given that, so far, she has won that much in only one state, her onetime adopted home of Arkansas. Even in New York, where she is a sitting senator, she won 57 percent of the vote. She won 55 percent in Michigan, where Obama was not even on the ballot.

"Her durability is impressive if not astonishing, but she is still looking at some pretty cold, hard numbers in the race," said Jim Jordan, a Democratic strategist who initially ran the 2004 primary campaign of Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.). "She's running out of time, she's running out of space." He described a Clinton nomination even with wins in Texas and Ohio as "impossible, really."

Steve McMahon, another Democratic strategist who is not working for either candidate, said the odds are long. "It's difficult to see how the math works for Senator Clinton," he said. "If you look at most models out there circulating, the one thing that's consistent is that she has to perform pretty strongly in order to have any hope of making up the deficit among elected delegates."

Still, Clinton supporters said yesterday's results suggested that Obama has not been able to close the deal, leaving her an opening. "She has lost 11 states in a row -- and the closest was Wisconsin, which she lost by 17" percentage points, said Paul Begala, who was a White House aide to her husband. "The theory of momentum suggested Obama should roll up equally large margins today, but voters seem to want to keep this race going. I suspect Senator Clinton agrees with them."


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