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CLINTON: Energizing Victories, But Difficult Delegate Math

Indeed, Clinton had hinted Monday that she was ready to keep the race going. "I'm just getting warmed up," she said. She seemed to surge on the strength of attacks on Obama's leadership preparation, conflicting statements about the North American Free Trade Agreement and connections to fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko, whose trial on unrelated extortion and money laundering charges opened Monday.

But candidates rarely admit they are considering dropping out until the moment they do. And Clinton, until the Ohio results came in, deflected questions about her plans yesterday, saying that she did not like to make predictions when asked repeatedly what she would do if she lost Texas, Ohio or both.

"No person has ever won the White House without winning the Ohio primary in either party, so I think Ohio is pretty important," Clinton said in an interview with the NBC affiliate in Columbus. "The voters are not ready for this to be over. They want to be sure they are picking the person who would be the strongest nominee against John McCain."

Clinton has been counting on Ohio and Texas to vault her back into contention after losing every contest since Super Tuesday on Feb. 5. Her strong showings in those states may now help curb what some Clinton strategists had expected to be escalating calls from senior Democrats to end her campaign in the interest of pulling the party together to face McCain, the Republican nominee. But Obama's allies said they would try to avoid piling on, recognizing that it might only prod her to stay in.

"I don't think anybody in the Obama campaign is going to tell her to get out," said former Senate majority leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.), an Obama supporter. "Only Hillary can decide what's right and what her future course should be. It becomes increasingly difficult to see mathematically how she can do it, but there may be other reasons to stay involved other than winning the nomination."

Her organization, though, is drained of money and energy. Outgunned by Obama in the fundraising department, the Clinton campaign is carrying millions of dollars in debt, although officials would not say how much, and it threw everything it had into Texas and Ohio. Campaign aides expressed optimism that she will draw a new infusion of money after these primaries and have enough to go forward, although that remains unclear.

Perhaps just as significant, many on her team appear exhausted and dispirited. Advisers have not waited for Ohio and Texas to launch into a furious debate about whom to blame for her problems. Senior advisers described the infighting as debilitating and destructive, with some members of her inner circle barely speaking to one another. Many fault Mark Penn, the campaign's chief strategist, for crafting a message they said did not match the mood of the year. Penn's allies blame other advisers for mismanaging campaign finances and not putting organizations on the ground in many caucus states.

As recently as last week, there were divisions among top advisers over which advertisement to use against Obama -- one attacking his Iraq war position, or one featuring a "3 a.m. call" to the White House that describes Clinton as better prepared to be president. The latter advertisement won out. But Clinton advisers were infuriated about the original debate, blaming Penn for encouraging her to cling to an unsuccessful argument -- that Obama's deeds have not matched his stated opposition to the Iraq war.

And even though Penn claimed credit for the phone-call ad, senior Clinton advisers expressed confusion over whether Penn or Austin ad guru Roy Spence had made it. Penn's allies said he made the ad -- and insisted on airing it over the objections of other senior advisers, including Mandy Grunwald, who is technically in charge of ad making. Penn wrote the ad, his allies said, and Grunwald reluctantly made it, but then tried to get it spiked.

The sniping over the ad was the latest expression of divisions within a team that has never been cohesive. Advisers complained bitterly about one other, and stories in the media delineated their differences. Several people inside the campaign said earlier that if Clinton won last night, it would be despite her campaign, not because of it.

Moving forward, Clinton officials think she will probably lose the next two contests, in Wyoming on Saturday and Mississippi on Tuesday. Their firewall, they hope, is Pennsylvania on April 22, giving Clinton time to continue raising doubts about Obama's experience, questioning his sincerity about toughening trade laws and appealing to women in a state that mirrors Ohio's working-class demographics. Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a strong Clinton ally, believes he could engineer a victory for her.

"The streak of losses has been snapped," one adviser said last night. "I think we touched bottom a week ago, and we've been coming back up, and the question was: Did we have enough time? And so far, based on the results, we did."

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