By Perry Bacon Jr. and Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, March 30, 2008
NEW ALBANY, Ind., March 29 -- In her most definitive comments to date on the subject, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton sought Saturday to put to rest any notion that she will drop out of the presidential race, pledging in an interview to not only compete in all the remaining primaries but also continue until there is a resolution of the disqualified results in Florida and Michigan.
A day after Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean urged the candidates to end the race by July 1, Clinton defied that call by declaring that she will take her campaign all the way to the Aug. 25-28 convention if necessary, potentially setting up the prolonged and divisive contest that party leaders are increasingly anxious to avoid.
"I know there are some people who want to shut this down and I think they are wrong," Clinton said in an interview during a campaign stop here Saturday. "I have no intention of stopping until we finish what we started and until we see what happens in the next 10 contests and until we resolve Florida and Michigan. And if we don't resolve it, we'll resolve it at the convention -- that's what credentials committees are for.
"We cannot go forward until Florida and Michigan are taken care of, otherwise the eventual nominee will not have the legitimacy that I think will haunt us," said the senator from New York. "I can imagine the ads the Republican Party and John McCain will run if we don't figure out how we can count the votes in Michigan and Florida."
Asked if there was a scenario in which she would drop out before the last primaries on June 3, Clinton said no. "I am committed to competing everywhere that there is an election," she said.
The Clinton campaign requested the interview Saturday to talk about how she could win and to emphasize her focus on Michigan and Florida.
Her remarks come as Clinton faces a mounting drumbeat, driven by the campaign of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and his backers, for her to bow out and avert a party crisis. Obama's supporters argue that he is too far ahead in pledged delegates for Clinton to catch up; Clinton counters by saying that neither of them has secured the 2,024 delegates needed for the nomination.
At a news conference Saturday in Johnstown, Pa., Obama welcomed Clinton to continue campaigning. "My attitude is that Senator Clinton can run as long as she wants," he said. "She is a fierce and formidable opponent, and she obviously believes she would make the best nominee and the best president."
Central to Clinton's case that she can still win is solving the question of Michigan and Florida, whose Democratic parties scheduled primaries in January in violation of national party rules, leading to their contests being invalidated.
Dean has said he would like to find a way to seat the two delegations, but no agreement has been reached among the state parties, the Clinton and Obama campaigns, and the DNC. The failure to schedule a revote or to count the earlier results has been a major setback for Clinton, who won both primaries, though she was the only Democratic candidate on the ballot in Michigan.
Clinton on Saturday accused Obama of blocking a proposed Michigan revote. Party officials earlier this month cited problems with conducting another primary there, but Obama aides had previously detailed their concerns in a memo, which she called a "smoke screen."
"His campaign rejected the plan that was put forward," she said. "For the life of me, what Barack was afraid of in Michigan I will never understand."
Obama spokesman Bill Burton said in an e-mail: "Sen. Obama is actually interested in and working towards a solution, unlike Clinton, who is trying to change the rules she agreed to and is more interested in potshots than solving this problem."
Clinton hopes to overtake Obama in the overall popular vote to argue to superdelegates -- the nearly 800 party members and elected officials who are likely to determine the outcome of the race -- that she is ahead where it matters. Including Florida and Michigan in that equation could boost her vote and delegate totals, as well as bolster her argument that she is better positioned to capture big general-election swing states.
When asked Saturday how she could still win, Clinton immediately talked about wooing superdelegates, who she said "have a role and very important responsibility."
"We have to nominate someone who can go toe to toe with John McCain on national security and beat him on the economy," she said. "This will all be for naught if we don't win in November."
But in the lull before ballots are cast in the next contest, in Pennsylvania on April 22, Clinton has been deluged with calls for her withdrawal, provoking a backlash among her supporters and defiance from the candidate and her family and staff.
Bill Clinton sent out an e-mail, titled "Not big on quitting," on Saturday that reminded supporters that his wife is behind in the popular vote by less than one percentage point and that she trails by 130 delegates.
"With the race this close, it sure doesn't make sense to me that she'd leave now -- does it make sense to you?" the former president's e-mail read.
In the interview, Hillary Clinton brushed aside concerns from party leaders that the campaign will hurt the party's chances against McCain, who launched his first general-election television ad last week and who has spent the month raising money and attacking the Democrats.
"General elections start where there is a nominee or a putative nominee," Clinton said. "They think they have theirs, we don't yet have ours. . . . We have frozen this election."
Asked whether Obama could win in November, Clinton deflected the question. "I'm saying I have a better chance," she said. "You cannot as a Democrat win the White House without a very big women's vote. What I believe is that women will turn out for me."
Staff writer Shailagh Murray in State College, Pa., contributed to this report.