MAYSVILLE, Kentucky (Reuters) - Hillary Clinton had a warning on Monday for rival Barack Obama, who is on the verge of claiming the U.S. Democratic presidential nomination: Not so fast.
“This is nowhere near over,” Clinton said at a rally in Maysville, Kentucky, pressing ahead with her long shot bid for the White House even as Obama focuses on November’s general election match-up with Republican John McCain.
Despite Obama’s almost unassailable lead in delegates who will select the nominee at the August Democratic convention, Clinton repeatedly has shrugged off calls to quit the race before the last of the voting concludes on June 3.
She warned the Illinois senator against premature victory celebrations one day before Kentucky and Oregon cast ballots in the lengthy Democratic White House fight.
“None of us is going to have the number of delegates we’re going to need to get to the nomination, although I understand my opponent and his supporters are going to claim that,” Clinton, a New York senator, said in Maysville.
Obama expects to claim a majority of pledged delegates won in state-by-state races after Tuesday’s returns, but he will still be about 75 short of the 2,026 needed to clinch the nomination without further help from superdelegates — party officials who are free to back any candidate.
Obama contends the remaining undecided superdelegates, who have been trending his way heavily in recent weeks, should back him since he won the most delegates in state voting.
Clinton says superdelegates should consider her argument that she will make a stronger general election foe for McCain, and her victories in big states like Pennsylvania and Ohio give her a better base than Obama has managed.
Obama will mark Tuesday’s voting with a rally in Iowa, a general election battleground where he made his breakthrough with a big win in the first Democratic contest on January 3. He told reporters in Oregon on Sunday, however, that he did not plan to declare victory on Tuesday.
“It doesn’t mean we declare victory because I won’t be the nominee until we have enough — combination of pledged delegates and super delegates to hit the mark,” Obama said.
Obama continued to focus on the general election fight with McCain, stepping up attacks on the influence of lobbyists in the Arizona senator’s campaign.
“John McCain’s campaign is being run by Washington lobbyists and paid for with their money,” Obama said in Billings, Montana, a state with a June 3 primary.
McCain’s national finance co-chairman, former Texas Rep. Thomas Loeffler, quit on Sunday because of his lobbying ties, becoming the fifth person to leave his campaign because of links to lobbying. McCain’s campaign manager last week asked staff to either resign or cut their ties with lobbying groups.
McCain strategist Charles Black, criticized by Democrats for his own lobbying activities, told reporters he had retired from his lobbying firm and he believed the McCain campaign had resolved the issue.
“I think everyone’s complying right now,” Black said.
In the Democratic race, Clinton said she had no intention of giving up the fight before the last two states, South Dakota and Montana, cast their votes.
“I’m going to make my case and I’m going to make it until we have a nominee, but we’re not going to have one today and we’re not going to have one tomorrow and we’re not going to have one the next day,” said Clinton, a former first lady.
“If Kentucky turns out tomorrow I will be closer to that nomination because of you,” she said.
Obama is favored to win in Oregon, where his lead in new polls ranges from 4 percentage points to double digits, and Clinton is a big favorite in Kentucky. The two states have a combined 103 delegates at stake on Tuesday.
All voting ends in Kentucky at 7 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT) and Oregon at 8 p.m. PDT/11 p.m. EDT (0300 GMT). Results are expected shortly after.
A delegate count by MSNBC gave Obama 1,901 delegates to Clinton’s 1,724. He picked up five more superdelegates on Monday, including Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia.
Obama has been cautious about pushing Clinton too hard to leave the race. Both candidates have avoided criticizing each other since Obama’s win in North Carolina two weeks ago moved him closer to claiming the nomination.
The Clinton campaign sent a memo to reporters saying any Obama effort to declare himself the nominee on Tuesday would be “a slap in the face” to Clinton supporters.
“Premature victory laps and false declarations of victory are unwarranted. Declaring mission accomplished does not make it so,” Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson said.
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason and Steve Holland; writing by John Whitesides; Editing by David Wiessler)
To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at http:/blogs.reuters.com/trail08/