Democratic race over? Clinton doesn't think so

WASHINGTON Thu Mar 27, 2008 3:47pm EDT

US Democratic presidential candidates Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) square off in the last debate before the Ohio primary in Cleveland, Ohio, February 26, 2008. REUTERS/Matt Sullivan

US Democratic presidential candidates Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) square off in the last debate before the Ohio primary in Cleveland, Ohio, February 26, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Matt Sullivan

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Somebody forgot to tell Hillary Clinton the Democratic presidential race is over and Barack Obama won.

Obama has captured more state contests, more votes and more of the pledged convention delegates who will help decide which Democrat faces Republican Sen. John McCain in November's presidential election.

But Clinton, a New York senator who has flirted with disaster before in the back-and-forth nominating battle with Obama, shrugs off growing predictions of doom and still sees at least a narrow path to victory.

"I hear it in the atmosphere," Clinton said of the increasingly loud chatter about whether she should drop out and let Democrats focus on the general election campaign.

"But the most common thing that people say to me ... is 'Don't give up, keep going. We're with you.' And I feel really good about that because that's what I intend to do," she told reporters on Tuesday.

Clinton has not been hearing those words of encouragement from a chorus of media commentators and Obama supporters who have questioned why she is pursuing her uphill fight to catch the Illinois senator.

The Politico newspaper declared Clinton "has virtually no chance of winning." A New York Times columnist called her campaign "the audacity of hopelessness" -- a pun on Obama's book "The Audacity of Hope."

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Cabinet member for her husband Bill, the former president, said it was time for Democrats to rally around Obama -- and was called a "Judas" by Clinton loyalist James Carville for his views.

Clinton and her campaign aides have worked hard to debunk the idea the race is over, holding daily conference calls to tout their viability and issuing a lengthy memo to rebut the "myth" that Clinton cannot win.

"In a campaign with dozens of unexpected twists and turns, bold prognostications should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism," the memo said.

But Clinton needs almost everything to go her way in the next few months.

She had a setback last week when her push for revotes in Michigan and Florida failed. Her victories there did not count because the contests were not sanctioned by the national party. She also faced an uproar this week over her misstatements about coming under sniper fire on her arrival in Bosnia in 1996.

TARGET: SUPERDELEGATES

The Clinton case for victory in the Democratic nomination fight is built on the backs of nearly 800 superdelegates -- elected officials and party insiders who are free to support anyone.

With 10 nominating contests remaining, Clinton lags Obama by more than 100 in the count of pledged delegates won in the state-by-state voting since January and has little chance of catching Obama.

But neither candidate is on track to win the 2,024 delegates needed to clinch the nomination -- making superdelegates the ultimate kingmakers.

Both camps have wooed them heavily, with Obama contending they should follow the will of Democratic voters. By the last nominating contests on June 3 in Montana and South Dakota, Obama says, he will have won the most votes and delegates.

Clinton says she offers the best chance of beating McCain in November.

To help her make that argument she needs to close the gap on Obama by rolling up big wins in many of the remaining contests, beginning on April 22 with Pennsylvania.

"The Obama campaign is trying to persuade everybody that this is over. I hope they don't get their hands on the federal budget because they surely can't count," said Clinton adviser Harold Ickes.

"We think that both candidates are going to be within a hair of each other by the time the last state votes. At the end of this process, neither candidate will have the nomination" and superdelegates will decide," Ickes said.

Clinton says she has won more big, diverse states crucial to Democratic hopes in November like Ohio, New Jersey and California, proving her worth in a general election battle.

The longer she continues, the more chance Obama might slip up and make a mistake that turns the tide of the campaign. Clinton has made it clear she will not consider bowing out of the race until all of the states have concluded their voting.

At that point, Democrats hope, a winner will emerge without the battle continuing all the way to the August party convention in Denver.

"I think that what we have to wait and see is what happens in the next three months, and there's been a lot of talk about what-if, what-if, what-if. Let's wait until we get some votes," Clinton said.

(Editing by Patricia Wilson and Frances Kerry)

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

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