WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Supporters of Barack Obama backed away on Sunday from calls for Hillary Clinton to drop out of the presidential race as Democrats faced a long summer of bitter fighting to win the party’s White House nomination.
In an interview published in The Washington Post, Clinton said she would fight all the way to the late August nominating convention, where a candidate will be chosen to face presumptive Republican nominee John McCain in the November election.
“I think the race should continue,” said New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a former Democratic presidential candidate who supports Obama. “She has every right to stay in the race. She’s run a very good campaign.”
Some Obama backers have called on New York Sen. Clinton to give up, citing the Illinois senator’s leads in the popular vote, states won and delegates to the convention to choose the nominee.
But Clinton has used those calls to rally her supporters, saying Washington insiders are trying to force her out before all Democrats have voted. She also stressed the need for new votes in Florida and Michigan, whose earlier primary votes were rejected because they violated party rules.
“I have no intention of stopping until we finish what we started and until we see what happens in the next 10 contests and until we resolve Florida and Michigan,” Clinton said in the Post interview. “And if we don’t resolve it, we’ll resolve it at the convention.”
With the next big contest coming in Pennsylvania on April 22, Clinton and McCain took much of the day off.
In their absence, Obama took the opportunity to attack McCain’s stance on the war in Iraq, a war he said had failed to make the United States safer while costing billions of dollars in part because of Bush’s tax cuts.
“When you ask John McCain how it has made us safer you get - err,” Obama told a raucus crowd of 2,000 at Harrisburg town hall in Pennsylvania. “He will argue that the surge has been the right thing to do but ... the question is why did we go in there in the first place.”
Earlier, Obama campaigned at Pennsylvania State University. where some 22,000 people came to listen to him speak at an open air rally in what aides said was one of the biggest events of the Democratic campaign.
College students have been some of Obama’s most active supporters and in Pennsylvania he must score big among them if he is to do well against Clinton.
Meanwhile, the Clinton campaign’s Texas Chairman Garry Mauro said she had gained at least two delegates to the national convention and could pick up two more as result of the state Democratic Party’s county conventions this weekend.
Clinton and Obama are vying for 67 delegates that will remain up for grabs until their party’s state convention in Austin on June 6-7.
And Obama supporters hit the Sunday morning television talk shows to play down talk Clinton should quit -- at least before the final nomination contests on June 3.
But after that, with neither Democratic contender likely to have captured the 2,024 delegates needed to face McCain, they want a quick resolution so the fight does not last all summer.
DEMOCRATS MUST ‘COME TOGETHER’
The outcome will probably lie with several hundred “superdelegates” -- party leaders and elected officials free to vote for either candidate.
“After June 3, it’s important that Democrats come together and not be so divided as we have been,” Richardson said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “But I think it’s important that, at the end of the June 3 date, we look at who has the most delegates, who has the most popular vote, who has the most states.”
That would most likely favor Obama. But Clinton backers did not see the need to hurry.
“Neither Sen. Clinton nor Sen. Obama, based on what people say the math is, can get the required number of delegates. And so you have to play it out until the end,” Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, a Clinton backer, said on the CBS show.
Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, an Obama supporter who was the party’s losing presidential nominee in 2004, said the superdelegates needed to make up their minds early so Democrats can organize to beat McCain.
”As a former nominee, I will tell you, this time right now is critical to us,“ he said on ABC’s ”This Week. “I think every day does give John McCain an ability to organize nationally.”
(Additional reporting by Matt Bigg in Pennsylvania; writing by David Wiessler and Christopher Wilson; editing by Patricia Zengerle and Todd Eastham)
To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/