By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 20, 2008 4:10 PM
Democrats in Kentucky and Oregon added their choices today to the presidential nominating contest between Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), a race the Obama campaign says is practically won but that Clinton's supporters insist is not yet over.
With Obama closing in on the number of delegates he needs to secure the Democratic nomination, his campaign was increasingly turning its attention to the fall campaign against Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the presumptive GOP nominee.
Former senator Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), co-chairman of Obama's national campaign, noted today that his candidate is within reach of a majority of pledged delegates, a milestone that he suggested could make Obama unbeatable.
"Not so fast," warned a newly formed women's political organization that backs Clinton. "We want Hillary to stay in this race until every vote is cast, every vote is counted, and we know that our voices are heard," the WomenCount Political Action Committee said in its latest full-page newspaper advertisement, published in today's editions of the New York Times.
At stake in today's voting are 51 pledged delegates in Kentucky and 52 in Oregon. Clinton is the overwhelming favorite to win Kentucky, while Obama holds an edge in Oregon, according to opinion polls. Only Democrats are eligible to vote in each primary.
Polling places opened at 6 a.m. EDT and were scheduled to close at 6 p.m. EDT in most of Kentucky. A section of western Kentucky is in the Central time zone, and polls there were due to close at 6 p.m. CDT. Voters in Oregon's vote-by-mail primary have until 8 p.m. local time to return their completed ballots. Almost all of Oregon is in the Pacific time zone; a small eastern chunk is in the Mountain time zone.
Heading into today's primaries, Obama had 1,915 total delegates to Clinton's 1,721, with a total of 2,026 needed to secure the nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Denver in late August, according to an Associated Press tally. An MSNBC count put Obama's total at 1,901 and Clinton's at 1,724. The tallies frequently change because they include unpledged "superdelegates" who are not required to commit to either candidate before the convention and whose preferences must be closely monitored.
As of today, slightly more than 200 superdelegates have not stated which candidate they support. They represent a potentially decisive voting bloc that both candidates are seeking to win over with their performances in the remaining primaries.
After today's voting, only three more nominating contests remain on the Democratic calendar: a June 1 primary in Puerto Rico, where 55 pledged delegates will be at stake, and June 3 primaries in Montana (16 pledged delegates) and South Dakota (15 pledged delegates).
Confident of winning Kentucky, Clinton scheduled a victory party tonight in Louisville. Obama, meanwhile, was slated to hold a political rally late this afternoon in Iowa, which held its caucuses Jan. 3 but is a potential battleground state in the fall. Both candidates are scheduled to campaign in Florida tomorrow.
In an interview on CNN's "American Morning" program, Daschle, the former Democratic Senate majority leader, said Obama needs only 15 more pledged delegates to reach a majority of those delegates in this year's primaries and caucuses, a threshold he is expected to cross tonight.
While reaching that milestone represents "a tremendous new accomplishment," Daschle said, it does not mean the race against Clinton is over. Important primaries remain to be held, he said, "and so we're going to play this all the way to the end."
However, pressed on the significance of getting a majority of the pledged delegates, Daschle added: "Well, I can't imagine that the unpledged delegates . . . could ever overturn the majority of the pledged delegates. The pledged delegates are the elected representatives from every one of the states."
Clinton campaign chairman Terence R. McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee chairman, said on MSNBC, "No one should declare victory till this nomination is over," adding, "It's not over till someone has the magic number to be the nominee of the Democratic Party."
McAuliffe put that number at 2,210 total delegate votes -- not the commonly used current figure of 2,026 -- because he said Michigan and Florida ultimately must be counted. The Democratic Party stripped both states of their delegates after they moved up their primaries. Clinton won both, although she was the only major Democratic candidate on the ballot in Michigan.
McAuliffe predicted a Clinton win in Kentucky tonight by more than 20 percentage points, though Obama has outspent her in the state by five to one. He said Obama has not yet proved that he can defeat the New York senator.
"Why does she keep winning?" he asked. "You want to beat Hillary? Beat her."
Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), a Clinton supporter, also said she should stay in the race. He said on MSNBC that it was a "fair point" for Democrats to be concerned about the negative impact of the protracted campaign on their chances against McCain in November. But a better point, he said, is that "if the Democratic Party can't come together, it doesn't even deserve the mantle of leadership to take this nation forward."
The WomenCount Political Action Committee, which says it was created to ensure a voice in the political process for the 51 percent of American citizens who are women, pressed an advertising campaign that began May 16 with a full-page ad in USA Today. The same ad in today's New York Times declared, "Hillary's voice is OUR voice, and she's speaking for all of us."
The San Francisco-based group added: "We know that when women vote, Democrats win. Now it is the responsibility of our party to hear our voices and count all of our votes."