By Dan Balz, Anne E. Kornblut and Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, May 8, 2008
Now facing almost insurmountable odds, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) came under fresh pressure yesterday to end her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination against Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), but she vowed to remain in the race "until there is a nominee."
Clinton's narrow win in Indiana late Tuesday provided none of the boost that her campaign advisers had anticipated. Her small margin, coupled with Obama's runaway victory in the North Carolina primary, shifted the dynamics of the Democratic race dramatically and sharply against her overnight.
In a conference call with reporters, campaign officials offered as upbeat an assessment of the contest as they could muster. Asked whether Clinton had discussed dropping out, senior adviser Howard Wolfson flatly told reporters: "No."
In her conversations with advisers yesterday, they said, Clinton talked about looking ahead to the next campaign, in West Virginia, where she should hold an advantage on Tuesday.
"Her feeling is she's made a commitment to let the people in the remaining states have their chance to express their voice, and she'll move forward with that part of the campaign in a way that will both make the case for her but also be constructive for the Democratic Party," said Geoff Garin, a top strategist in the campaign.
Another Clinton adviser said that there is at best a 10 percent chance that she will end her candidacy before the last primaries, on June 3. Privately, however, several advisers acknowledged that her route to the nomination has become far more difficult as a result of Tuesday's voting. "It's narrowed," said one adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.
This adviser said the fundamentals of the race had not changed as much as perceptions of Obama's prospects for winning. "It's just that the atmosphere shifted, as it shifted in her favor coming out of Ohio and again after Pennsylvania," the adviser said. "It's shifted back. Not to where it was pre-Ohio, but there's been a substantial shift back."
Garin said the real change is in the commentary about the race. "I think that there are pundits who think she should get out," he said. "She has faced those calls before and has continued onward."
Clinton advisers hope to ride out the rest of the week, knowing there will be talk about whether she will quit the race. They think that a big victory in West Virginia would give her a new platform to make a case for herself.
But Tuesday's results brought more than cable news chatter about her situation. Former senator George McGovern (S.D.), the party's 1972 nominee, announced that he was shifting his support from Clinton to Obama, and said it is time for Democrats to unite to defeat Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the presumptive GOP nominee, in November.
"I do think the mathematics are all with Senator Obama," he said on CNN. Adding that he was not attempting to force Clinton out of the race prematurely, he expressed hope for an early decision. He added: "What we have to avoid is following a course that will deliver an election to John McCain that he otherwise couldn't get."
Obama remained in Chicago yesterday, where his advisers stressed his mathematical advantage in pledged delegates. The candidate is scheduled to return to Washington today to meet with uncommitted superdelegates and attend a high-dollar fundraiser.
Clinton will campaign in West Virginia and South Dakota today, and Oregon and Kentucky tomorrow. Her husband, former president Bill Clinton, has a full day of events in West Virginia today.
Obama picked up four more superdelegates yesterday, including one, Virginia Del. Jennifer L. McClellan, who had previously backed Clinton. In a conference call with reporters, leading Obama supporters urged uncommitted superdelegates to move quickly to support the senator from Illinois. "This is the moment," said Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), the party's 2004 nominee.
Clinton won the endorsement of Rep. Heath Shuler (N.C.), whose district she carried on Tuesday.
Several undecided Democrats indicated that their Obama endorsements were just a matter of time. Rep. Jason Altmire (Pa.), whose district went overwhelmingly for Clinton, said he would nonetheless back Obama if he maintains leads in the major indicators: pledged delegates, states won and popular votes.
But, he said, he will wait to see how the coming contests unfold. "The mountain that I'm giving her to climb is very steep. It's an almost impossible task," he said.
One superdelegate who remains unwaveringly committed to Clinton said it is now "very, very difficult" to envision a scenario under which she could defeat Obama.
"There are a number of reasons for her not to drop out immediately, not the least of which is a lot of people want her to stay in, and how she handles herself from here on out, if she's not the winner, could help pave the way forward for the party," the superdelegate said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to talk freely about the race.
Another Clinton supporter said privately that the candidate has but one option: "Withdraw gracefully and help unify the party to beat McCain." Asked how quickly she would quit the race, the veteran of past presidential campaigns said he would recommend "as soon as this weekend."
Clinton, determined to show her resilience in the face of the fresh calls to leave the stage, made a midday trip to West Virginia, where she brushed aside questions about whether she risks dividing the party by continuing to run.
"I'm staying in this race until there's a nominee, and I obviously am going to work as hard as I can to become that nominee," she told reporters after giving a short stump speech on the front lawn of a building at Shepherd University.
Clinton was asked about her decision to lend her campaign an additional $6.4 million, which her advisers confirmed yesterday morning. That brings to at least $11 million the amount she has leveraged from her and her husband's personal wealth.
"It's a sign of my commitment to this campaign," Clinton said. "It's a sign of how much I believe in what we're trying to do. My supporters have been incredibly generous. They are putting money into this campaign on an hourly basis."
Obama's huge financial advantage looms as a significant problem for Clinton. At a fundraiser in Washington last night, at which she was hoping to raise about $500,000, she reiterated that she would stay in the race and said to those concerned about the drawn-out contest that "there is no cause for alarm," adding: "Sometimes you've got to calm people down a little bit."
"We have to figure out who would be the stronger candidate," Clinton said. "We have plenty of time to make the case against John McCain. I landed in New Hampshire on a Thursday night nine points down and I won on Tuesday."
She appealed for money in her speech on Tuesday night and the campaign issued an e-mail request hours later. Her advisers indicated yesterday that she has not ruled out lending her campaign more money.
Clinton advisers sketched out a scenario that they said could still deliver the nomination, though they acknowledged privately that the odds are long. It includes winning three of the final six primaries -- West Virginia, Kentucky and Puerto Rico -- and holding down Obama's margin in Oregon or even winning the state. Obama is favored in Montana and South Dakota.
Next, Clinton still hopes to win the battle over seating disputed delegations from Florida and Michigan with full voting rights. Keeping alive this fight, at a minimum, gives the Clinton team the opportunity to argue that Obama will need more than 2,025 delegates to win the nomination. The Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee plans to meet May 31 to take up the two states' challenges.
If all the Florida and Michigan delegates were seated and voting, the winning number would be 2,209. Clinton's campaign wants superdelegates to accept its logic that Obama is further from the magic number than his campaign says.
Finally, Clinton needs to prevent Obama from winning endorsements from a substantial number of uncommitted superdelegates before the primaries end. "If enough move, that's it," one Clinton adviser said.
The Clinton team booked a room at a Capitol Hill restaurant for a meeting with superdelegates. The campaign described it as a casual gathering for their liaisons but canceled it when told that the House was in an uproar over the housing bill and so nobody could come.
Clinton did meet with some uncommitted superdelegates individually. House Budget Committee Chairman John M. Spratt Jr. (S.C.) told her cordially that his state had gone overwhelmingly for Obama, and that he could not endorse her, Spratt spokesman Chuck Fant said. He pledged to stay neutral for now.
One Clinton adviser, speaking on the condition of anonymity to be frank, said: "If the supers weren't buying it before, it's hard to see how they'll buy it now."
Bacon was traveling with Clinton in West Virginia. Staff writers Jonathan Weisman in Washington and Anita Kumar in Richmond contributed to this report.