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Clinton Soldiers On Despite Setbacks

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks to supporters at an early voting event in Dallas.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks to supporters at an early voting event in Dallas. (By Rick Gershon -- Getty Images)
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Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 23, 2008; Page A08

COLUMBUS, Ohio, Feb. 22 -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton insisted Friday that she had not meant to signal surrender when she shook hands with Sen. Barack Obama during their Democratic presidential debate in Austin the night before. It was a measure of the dire circumstances her campaign now faces that she had to explain the gesture at all.

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Clinton said she still expects to win the Ohio and Texas primaries, but her increasingly pessimistic advisers did nothing to rebut a remark by former president Bill Clinton that his wife must win both states to continue her candidacy.

Adding to the dark mood that has descended on her campaign was a fatal accident involving a police officer as her motorcade proceeded through Dallas on Friday morning. Clinton canceled a rally when she learned of the death of Senior Cpl. Victor Lozada-Tirado, telling supporters in Fort Worth: "It is, for me, a very personal moment." She went with the Dallas mayor and the chief of police to Methodist Hospital to meet with the officer's wife.

In recent weeks, Clinton has increasingly turned to recounting anecdotes about people she has met, shifting attention away from her and back to voters, a formula that Bill Clinton used to great effect.

She recalled some of those individuals -- a soldier in San Antonio, a working mother in McAllen -- at a street-corner event in Dallas. And later in the day at an economic roundtable in Columbus, Ohio, where she stood in front of a banner that read "Solutions for the American Economy," she solicited stories from visitors about their economic problems, including one woman's tale of losing her home to foreclosure. But the motorcade accident hung like a dark cloud at every moment, with Clinton pointing to the four children the officer left behind as an example of the need for a social safety net.

Her supporters gasped as she described the accident in Dallas earlier in the day. "It was just heartbreaking," she told the hushed auditorium.

Clinton will travel to New Orleans on Saturday before heading to Rhode Island, another March 4 state, on Sunday. She and Obama are scheduled to participate in a debate in Cleveland on Tuesday night -- possibly their last.

Despite reports of campaign overspending and fundraising woes, Clinton released three new television ads, including a Texas spot showing a man loading hay bales into a red pickup truck and one for Ohio featuring former senator and astronaut John Glenn.

Inside Clinton's inner circle on Friday, the feeling was that the Thursday night debate in Austin was unlikely to slow Obama's momentum from 11 straight primary and caucus victories. Some supporters said they had discussed how to raise with Clinton the subject of withdrawing from the race should she fail to win decisively on March 4. One option was to wait a day or two and then dispatch emissaries to former president Clinton to urge him to make the case.

One adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak freely, said Obama's 17-point Wisconsin victory on Tuesday had started to sink in as a decisive blow, given that the state had been viewed weeks earlier as a level playing field.

"The mathematical reality at that point became impossible to ignore," the adviser said. "There's not a lot of denial left at this point."

Despite Clinton's public pronouncements of optimism, this adviser said: "She knows where things are going. It's pretty clear she has a big decision. But it's daunting. It's still hard to accept."

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