Clinton Touts Wins; Obama Downplays Performance

By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 5, 2008; 3:27 PM

Buoyed by primary victories in three states last night, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) presented herself today as the Democrat most likely to defeat the Republican nominee for president in November and raised the prospect of joining forces with Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) -- as her vice presidential running mate.

Making the rounds of the morning television news shows following her victories in Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island, Clinton attributed her revitalized candidacy to an assessment by Democratic primary voters that she would be better able than Obama to take on Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).

McCain, who sealed the GOP nomination last night with wins in the three states plus Vermont, went to the White House today for lunch with President Bush, who formally endorsed him afterward in a joint appearance in the Rose Garden. Bush hailed his former rival for showing "incredible courage and strength of character and perseverance" in reviving a formerly moribund campaign.

"He's going to be the president who will bring determination to defeat an enemy and a heart big enough to love those who hurt," Bush told reporters with McCain standing by his side. McCain said he hoped that Bush would campaign for him and help with fundraising "as much as possible . . . in keeping with the president's heavy schedule."

The Arizona senator declined to discuss the possibilities in choosing a running mate, avoiding the question of whether Republicans should pick a woman or a minority in view of the fact that the Democratic presidential candidate will be either a woman or an African American. MCain said it had not been appropriate to consider vice presidential choices before securing the nomination, and "now we'll begin that process."

Asked on the CBS "Early Show" about Democrats who want to see her and Obama on the same ticket, Clinton said: "Well, that may, you know, be where this is headed. But, of course, we have to decide who's on top of the ticket."

She added: "And I think that the people of Ohio very clearly said that it should be me. And after all, no one in recent history has won the presidency who did not win their party's primary in Ohio."

Obama, who also appeared on the morning shows, played down his losses, pointing out that he still leads in the number of states won, in the total popular vote in the nominating contests and in the all-important count of delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

He declined to discuss the prospect of joining forces with Clinton, telling reporters before flying from San Antonio to Chicago that it was "very premature to start talking about a joint ticket."

"Senator Clinton is tenacious, and she keeps on ticking," Obama said on ABC's "Good Morning America." But given his 12 consecutive victories through Vermont last night, he said, "I think it's going to be very hard for her to catch up on the pledged delegate count." He also said Clinton's lead in unpledged superdelegates has narrowed "drastically" in recent weeks. "So I think that we'll be in a very strong position to claim the nomination."

In yesterday's primaries, Clinton easily beat Obama in Rhode Island with 58 percent of the vote, won Ohio by 54 percent to 44 percent and held on to take Texas by 51 percent to 47 percent. Obama handily won in Vermont by 60 percent to 38 percent.

In Texas, the biggest prize of the night in terms of delegates, Obama was leading Clinton this morning in the results of last night's Democratic caucuses, which followed the primary voting in a system dubbed the "Texas two-step." The Texas primary allocates 126 delegates, and the follow-on caucuses account for 67. In addition, the state will send 35 unpledged delegates to the national convention, for a total of 228 delegate votes.

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