Clinton tries to energize trailing presidential bid

DALLAS Fri Feb 22, 2008 6:54pm EST

1 of 13. Democratic presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton leaves the stage after cancelling a rally in Fort Worth, Texas February 22, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi

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DALLAS (Reuters) - Sen. Hillary Clinton fended off questions about the future of her presidential bid on Friday, insisting her remarks at a debate were not a farewell but declining to promise she would stay in the race after must-win votes in Ohio and Texas on March 4.

In appearances on three morning TV news shows, Clinton was questioned about her emotional remarks on Thursday at the close of a debate with rival Barack Obama and what they signaled about her trailing bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Clinton was asked during the debate to recall a time when she had been tested by crisis. She alluded to the sexual scandal that led to the impeachment of her husband, President Bill Clinton, then talked emotionally about the problems Americans face, her meetings with disabled soldiers and how honored she felt to compete with Obama.

"Whatever happens, we're going to be fine," she said, looking at Obama seated beside her, adding that she and Obama had strong support from family and friends.

Asked on CBS whether her remarks marked the beginning of the end of her campaign, Clinton replied: "No. Of course not. It is a recognition that both of us are on the brink of historic change."

Clinton, the New York senator, would be the first woman U.S. president if she won the November general election, and Obama, the Illinois senator, would be the first black U.S. president.

An ABC interviewer asked her if her comments meant she had come to terms with the possibility of losing, but Clinton replied: "Well, I intend to win, obviously. I'm working very hard. And Ohio and Texas are critical states."

But asked on NBC whether she would stay in the race after Ohio and Texas no matter the outcome, Clinton avoided a direct answer.

"I don't make predictions," she said. "I never have, I never will. I just get up every day and, you know, do the best I can to let people know what I have done and what I am doing and what I will do."

Obama has won 10 consecutive state elections since February 5. The string of victories has put him ahead in the race for delegates to a nominating convention this summer where the party will pick a candidate for the November election.

Many analysts say Clinton must win elections in the delegate-rich states of Texas and Ohio on March 4 in order to cut Obama's lead and still have a chance to win the nomination.

Clinton sought to use her much-praised debate remarks to energize her campaign during a morning rally in Dallas on Friday. But the push stalled a short time later when she learned that a police officer escorting her motorcade had been killed in a motorcycle crash on the way to the rally.

"Because of this tragedy, I know that you will understand we can't have a rally," she said in a brief appearance in Fort Worth before visiting the family of the dead officer. "It would not be appropriate for me to take this opportunity as I had planned ... to talk about the election."

OBAMA RALLIES COLLEGE STUDENTS

Democratic front-runner Obama rallied college students at the University of Texas Pan American in Edinburg on Friday, touting his plans to make education more affordable.

Texas allows voters to cast their ballots early, and the Illinois senator prodded them to do so.

"Right after this rally you need to go find your polling place and you need to go vote," he said.

"I won't tell you who to vote for," the candidate added.

"Obama!" the crowd shouted.

"That's a good answer," he replied.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain campaigned in Indiana and tried to put behind him newspaper reports that questioned his links to Washington lobbyists. The Arizona senator has been a critic of special interests often represented by lobbyists.

The New York Times, which endorsed McCain during the primaries, on Thursday questioned his relationship with a woman lobbyist, prompting him to denounce the article as untrue and deny any improper relationship.

The Washington Post on Friday ran an article on the number of advisers McCain has who have been lobbyists. Responding to the report, McCain said while lobbyists were among his close advisers they were not corrupt and did not exert improper influence.

"These people have honorable records, and they're honorable people, and I'm proud to have them as part of my team," McCain told reporters after a town-hall style meeting with about 150 voters in Indianapolis.

(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason in Texas and Jason Szep in Indiana, writing by David Alexander, editing by Jackie Frank)

(To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/)

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