Obama nears victory

Clinton nearing the end?
June 2, 2008 2:13:48 PM PDT
Barack Obama crept close to victory in the marathon Democratic presidential race Monday on the eve of the final primaries amid signs that Hillary Rodham Clinton was preparing to acknowledge defeat once he gained the final delegates needed. "This may be the last day I'm ever involved in a campaign of this kind," former President Bill Clinton said in South Dakota, although his wife gave no hint of quitting and has repeatedly said she may continue her candidacy.

Obama, bidding to become the first black major party nominee in history, was 43.5 delegates shy of the 2,118, needed to clinch the nomination at the party's convention in Denver. He gained 3.5 during the day Monday, and one member of the House leadership, Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, readied an endorsement for Tuesday.

Obama's aides prodded uncommitted lawmakers and other "superdelegates" to climb on board quickly - as Clinton struggled to hold back the tide.

Rep. Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania, who is uncommitted, said Obama's goal was to be in position to seal the nomination Tuesday night, once the votes are tallied from primaries in Montana and South Dakota. The first-term congressman, whose district voted for Clinton in the state's primary, said he would not be immediately joining the endorsers. "I'm not going to do anything before the results tomorrow night," he said.

Clinton, the long-ago front-runner, was not far behind Obama in delegates. She had 1917.5 after adding two during the day.

But there was no doubt that the historic nominating campaign, pitting a black man against a woman, was nearing an end.

If nothing else, the candidates' itineraries said as much.

The former first lady campaigned into the night in South Dakota, scratching for a primary triumph that could somehow persuade uncommitted superdelegates to back her, before heading home to New York for a post-primary appearance Tuesday night.

"I'm just very grateful we kept this campaign going until South Dakota would have the last word," she said at a restaurant in Rapid City.

Obama, confident of victory, looked ahead to the general election by campaigning in Michigan, a likely battleground state in the fall campaign.

He dismissed fears that the party would be unable to unite for the fall campaign. "Senator Clinton has run an outstanding race, she is an outstanding public servant and she and I will be working on November," he said.

Obama arranged a Tuesday night speech in Minnesota, at the site of the Republican National Convention that will nominate Sen. John McCain in September.

Democratic Party leaders watched from the sidelines, eager for a quick end to a race that drew record millions to voting booths but also exposed racial and other divisions.

Officials said that if Obama failed to gain 2,118 delegates by Tuesday night, one possibility under discussion was for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi to issue a statement on Wednesday urging superdelegates - members of Congress and other party leaders - to state their preferences as soon as possible.

Clyburn, the senior black member of Congress, has long been presumed to support Obama. Several officials described his endorsement plans, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid pre-empting a formal announcement.

Two Democrats also said Rep. John Spratt of South Carolina would join Clyburn in making an endorsement.

Clinton has had a strong run through the late primaries, including a lopsided victory on Sunday in the Puerto Rico primary, and she has repeatedly declined to say she would concede defeat if her rival appeared to gain the delegates he needs.

A top aide, Harold Ickes, stressed over the weekend that the campaign reserved the right to challenge a ruling by the convention rules and bylaws committee that he said improperly gave a handful of Michigan delegates to Obama.

But in a conference call during the day with top donors, Ickes said that would probably not happen, according to one participant who described the conversation on condition of anonymity.

Even some of her strongest supporters counseled against it.

"If one candidate has the requisite number of delegates, both pledged and super, it makes it far more difficult to make the credible argument that she stay on in the chance that some superdelegates might change their mind and endorse her later," said Hassan Nemazee, a national co-chairman of Clinton's finance committee.

Ickes also conceded that Obama was likely to reach the delegate threshold by Wednesday, and that Clinton would need some time to consider her next step.

He said there was no political significance to a decision to invite staff aides who have worked for Clinton in primary states to either attend her rally on Tuesday night or return home for further instructions.

"There are no more primaries so there is nowhere to send them," Ickes said.

The former first lady arranged a private meeting with her donors on Tuesday, and was scheduled to address the national conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington on Wednesday.


Associated Press writers Kim Hefling, Beth Fouhy, Nedra Pickler, Jim Kuhnhenn, Stephen Ohlemacher and Jim Davenport contributed to this story.