Support for Clinton wanes as Obama sees finish line
Clinton encouraged to drop out?
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton struck a publicly defiant posture on Wednesday about continuing her presidential bid despite waning support from Democratic officials and donors. According to an article by The New York Times, some of her advisers acknowledged privately that they remained unsure about the future of her candidacy.
With the political world trained on Mrs. Clinton’s financial and electoral viability, Senator Barack Obama moved closer to becoming the first African-American presidential nominee of a major party. Mr. Obama spent the day at home in Chicago, after increasing his delegate lead in Tuesday’s primaries — a result that led David Plouffe, a top Obama aide, to say on Wednesday, “We can see the finish line here.”
After a decisive loss in North Carolina and a disappointingly narrow victory in Indiana on Tuesday night, Mrs. Clinton told advisers that she wanted to start campaigning for next Tuesday’s primary in West Virginia, advisers said. At 3 a.m. Wednesday, aides added a noon event there. She was also eager to get away from Beltway buzzards circling her candidacy and feeding off fresh tidbits like the revelation that she had lent her campaign $6 million to keep it afloat, aides said.
In West Virginia on Wednesday afternoon, Mrs. Clinton said that it was “still early” — even though 50 of 56 nominating contests have concluded — and that the “dynamic electoral environment” could still swing the nomination her way.
“I’m staying in this race until there is a nominee, and obviously I’m going to work as hard as I can to become that nominee,” Mrs. Clinton said after an event in Shepherdstown, W.Va.
As adamant as Mrs. Clinton appeared on Wednesday, several advisers said that how long she would stay in the race was an open question. Some top Clinton fund-raisers said that the campaign was all but over and suggested that she was simply buying time on Wednesday to determine if she could raise enough money and still win over superdelegates, the elected officials and party leaders who could essentially hand Mr. Obama the nomination.
Highlighting the financial woes of Mrs. Clinton’s expensive battle against Mr. Obama, campaign officials disclosed that the $6 million in loans she made to her campaign had come in three installments since April 11, with the last two since May 1. Mrs. Clinton and her husband made a separate $5 million loan to the campaign after the Feb. 5 contests.
Mrs. Clinton is willing to put even more money into her campaign, said Terry McAuliffe, her campaign chairman. “Senator Clinton has anted up and is fighting on,” Mr. McAuliffe said. Other advisers said in interviews that her campaign was nearly out of cash, raising questions about what kind of campaign she can continue to run. The campaign said, however, that it was running advertisements in West Virginia and in Oregon, which has its primary on May 20.
Clinton advisers said they were concerned that the candidate’s online fund-raising, which boomed after her victory in the Ohio primary in March and in Pennsylvania in April, had slowed by comparison on Tuesday night and Wednesday, and that her donor base was either tightening somewhat or playing wait-and-see, despite her public appeal for money on Tuesday night. Clinton aides did not send out the near-hourly e-mail blasts bragging about online donations that came after previous successes.
Political pressure on Mrs. Clinton to withdraw is growing. A widely known supporter of Mrs. Clinton, former Senator George McGovern of South Dakota, the 1972 Democratic nominee, announced on Wednesday that he had switched his endorsement to Mr. Obama and believed that Mrs. Clinton should drop out because it was mathematically impossible for her to win the nomination.
The Obama campaign also announced four new superdelegate endorsements, those of Jerry Meek, chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party; Jeanette Council, a member of the Democratic National Committee from North Carolina; Inola Henry, a member of the national committee from California; and Jennifer McClellan of the Virginia House of Delegates. Ms. McClellan also switched from Mrs. Clinton’s camp.
Representative Heath Shuler of North Carolina said on Wednesday that he would follow the will of his district, which supported Mrs. Clinton.
One Clinton adviser said the campaign was struggling to arrange meetings with large numbers of uncommitted superdelegates. This adviser said that at least a few superdelegates might not want to meet with Mrs. Clinton because they did not want to hear another pitch or because they had all but decided to go with Mr. Obama.
Still, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the speaker of the House, was among those on Wednesday giving Mrs. Clinton room to make her own calculations about the race, saying “a win is a win,” in reference to the Indiana results. “The race is alive and well and will continue,” she told reporters.
Top Democratic officials said privately that Congressional leaders were content to have the race play out as long as it did not take on a negative tone. Attacks on Mr. Obama by the Clinton campaign or its surrogates could lead to a leadership push for superdelegates to show their hand and bring the race to a close, said aides, who did not want be identified discussing internal strategy.
The itineraries of the candidates told the story of their stations in the race. As Mrs. Clinton raced to West Virginia and then back to Washington for a fund-raiser, which was expected to bring in more than $500,000, Mr. Obama spent the day at his Chicago home — a reward from his advisers as they intensified their effort to secure the nomination.
Overnight, Mr. Plouffe, the campaign manager, sent a memorandum to Democratic superdelegates suggesting that the race had reached its tipping point.
The results on Tuesday widened Mr. Obama’s lead in pledged delegates by 13, as he picked up 17 more than Mrs. Clinton in North Carolina, and fell 4 short of her in Indiana, according to a projection agreed on by both campaigns. With six contests remaining, Mr. Obama holds a pledged delegate lead of 168, according to a count by The New York Times. A total of 2,025 delegates are needed to capture the nomination.
The Obama campaign was courting superdelegates in districts Mr. Obama carried. Calling trees were organized — with lists parceled out to supporters — to contact superdelegates this week. A separate list was given to Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle.
But Mr. Obama issued a directive, aides said, to maintain a tone respectful of Mrs. Clinton and her supporters in the days ahead.
“It would be inappropriate, awkward and wrong for us to tell Senator Clinton when the race should be over,” said Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, who supports Mr. Obama. “This is her decision. This is only her decision.”
Obama advisers said they would proceed through the final primaries mindful of a lesson learned after Iowa, when a dose of overconfidence contributed to defeat in New Hampshire. The campaign ran television commercials in Kentucky, Montana, Oregon, South Dakota and West Virginia and radio advertisements in Puerto Rico.
In a Clinton campaign conference call with reporters on Wednesday, three top advisers acknowledged that even if all the delegates from disputed primaries in Michigan and Florida were seated at the Democratic convention, Mrs. Clinton would still not have enough delegates to claim the nomination.
Phil Singer, a spokesman for the campaign, estimated that in a best-case event, where the Michigan and Florida delegates were apportioned according to each state’s popular vote, Mrs. Clinton would still be about 100 delegates shy of the number needed. Delegates in those states have not been counted, the penalty for holding early primaries.
Despite the accumulation of discouraging signs, campaign officials continued to assert, at least in the conference call with reporters, their belief that the nomination could still be won.
“We think the results last night strengthen the case that she will be the strongest candidate for the Democratic Party in November,” said Geoff Garin, the campaign’s top strategist.
One topic Mrs. Clinton and her aides discussed on Wednesday was how, and whether, the campaign could raise significant new sums when she has relatively little momentum and when so many donors have already contributed the maximum amount, her advisers say.
Even some of her most optimistic supporters were measured in their comments about how well positioned she was to stay in the race.
“It’s hard to answer that question; she has lost in North Carolina, but it looks like she won Indiana, which everyone expected,” said Alan Patricof, one of Mrs. Clinton’s national finance chairmen. “I think she’s committed to going forward, but it’s hard to know. She is the one to make the decision about what she does. And a lot of us have trust and faith in her to make the best decision.”