Clinton Team Acknowledges $20 Million Debt

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton receives a giant Mother's Day card from supporters during a rally in Grafton, W.Va. She is a strong favorite to beat Sen. Barack Obama in tomorrow's West Virginia primary.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton receives a giant Mother's Day card from supporters during a rally in Grafton, W.Va. She is a strong favorite to beat Sen. Barack Obama in tomorrow's West Virginia primary. (By Joe Raedle -- Getty Images)
By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 12, 2008

CLARKSBURG, W.Va., May 11 -- With her campaign falling ever deeper into debt, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton spent a rainy Mother's Day seeking votes ahead of Tuesday's primary here, turning a deaf ear to calls for her to leave a Democratic presidential contest she has little hope of winning.

Clinton aides continued to insist that she will remain in the race even while confirming that she is $20 million in debt. "The voters are going to decide this," senior adviser Howard Wolfson said on "Fox News Sunday," acknowledging the $20 million figure. "There is no reason for her not to continue this process." Wolfson said he has seen "no evidence of her interest" in pursuing the second-place spot on the Democratic ticket, contrary to rumors that she is staying in the race to leverage a bid for the vice presidential nomination.

With the primary season nearing its close, Sen. Barack Obama's advisers are beginning to consider the question of his running mate with more urgency as they focus more openly on the general election. Although Obama himself has been careful to insist that the Democratic race is not over as long as Clinton stays in it, his advisers have planned a trip to Missouri -- a state that held its primary on Feb. 5 but appears certain to be a key November battleground -- this week.

While not dismissing the states entirely, Obama's campaign is making it clear he will not aggressively contest West Virginia or Kentucky, which holds its primary a week from Tuesday. Obama is likely to win in Oregon, also a May 20 primary state. Clinton has campaigned hard in West Virginia, and her aides said Sunday that she will hold a victory celebration at the Charleston Civic Center on Tuesday night.

With nearly everyone -- including, privately, many on her own team -- contemplating when, not if, she will quit the race, the questions surrounding Clinton now go largely to her motivation. Publicly, her campaign argues that victories in West Virginia and Kentucky could shift the growing tide of momentum for Obama back to her by demonstrating that she has appeal in states that Democrats must to win to take back the White House in November. What is unclear is whether she hopes strong performances will make Obama consider her for the No. 2 slot or at least help her retire her growing debt.

"I don't believe that Senator Clinton is looking for a deal," Obama strategist David Axelrod said on the same Fox show on which Wolfson appeared. Saying that Clinton "competed hard" and is "playing it out as she sees fit," he said the Clinton campaign is capable of deciding how to leave for itself. "I don't think she's waiting for a cue or a signal from us or an offer of financial assistance. And I think that would demean her to suggest otherwise," he said.

Axelrod added: "I don't think even under any scenario . . . that we were going to transfer money from the Obama campaign to the Clinton campaign. We obviously need the resources we have. We have a great task ahead of us."

There was, Axelrod said, "a misunderstanding out there about that." After reports that Michelle Obama, the senator's wife, has rejected the possibility of an Obama-Clinton ticket, Axelrod flatly said: "That's false." He said there have not been overtures made to the Clinton team to negotiate her departure from the campaign.

Clinton has spent the better part of the past year on the campaign trail, with almost every holiday doubling as a campaign opportunity. Mother's Day was no exception: After holding a fundraiser in New York, Clinton and her daughter, Chelsea, went to West Virginia and toured the birthplace of Anna Jarvis, the woman who founded the holiday a century earlier. Clinton told reporters that she had gotten flowers from her daughter and husband, as well as a vase and a perfume bottle made in West Virginia. She continues campaigning here Monday with stops in four towns, Montgomery, Clear Fork, Logan and Fairmont.

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