Clinton campaign making final assessments

June 2, 2008 7:03:52 PM PDT
Hillary Rodham Clinton pushed through South Dakota Monday as an air of finality and resignation began to settle in among her supporters, aides and financial backers.

Nancy Sutterer, a 52-year-old unemployed technician, implored Clinton at a restaurant stop to tackle the economy "wherever you're at, whatever you're doing."

From that breakfast booth in Rapid City to a campaign stop by former President Clinton in Milbank, S.D., there were abundant signs that her historic run for the presidency was closing out.

"I want to say also that this may be the last day I'm ever involved in a campaign of this kind," former President Clinton said.

In a rare departure from the campaign trail, the New York senator and former first lady planned to hold an end-of-primary rally in New York Tuesday night, inviting donors and offering to fly field staffers from around the country to attend. She had no other events scheduled for Tuesday and aides said she planned to be on the telephone calling superdelegates in a last-ditch effort to undercut Obama's lead.

Aides stressed she had no plans to withdraw from the race Tuesday night.

But Clinton field hands who worked in key battlegrounds for her said they were told to stand down, without pay, and await instructions. Speaking not for attribution because they didn't want to jeopardize their jobs searches, many said they were peddling resumes, returning to their hometowns or seeking out former employers.

Clinton superdelegates held a conference call with senior Clinton adviser Harold Ickes Monday afternoon, a regularly scheduled event that at least one participant described as being part congratulations and part farewell.

Ickes also spoke by conference call to members of Clinton's finance committee, where he said she almost certainly would not appeal a Democratic Party rules committee decision giving her fewer delegates from Michigan than she thought she had earned. Clinton signaled Saturday she might appeal the ruling, which would have dragged the nomination fight to the party's convention in August.

Clinton was to end the day Monday in Sioux Falls with former President Clinton and their daughter Chelsea before flying east. South Dakota and Montana hold the final two primaries Tuesday, with 31 delegates at stake.

Clinton's advisers privately predicted she would lose both contests. She planned to meet with advisers at her home in Chappaqua, N.Y., on Tuesday.

Campaign officials said she planned to consider all options until Obama secured the number of delegates needed to clinch the nomination. But while the Democratic Party has now set the threshold for the nomination as 2,118 delegates, Clinton aides would not concede that number as the determinative total.

But Hassan Nemazee, a national co-chairman of Clinton's finance committee, said that if Obama succeeded in reaching the delegate threshold Tuesday, Clinton would have little reason to continue her candidacy.

"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 in on the chance that some superdelegates might change their mind and endorse her later," Nemazee said.

Clinton was scheduled to address the national conference of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, in Washington Wednesday, as was Obama.

Even with her chances of wresting the nomination from Obama all but extinguished, Clinton's supporters and advisers were calling uncommitted superdelegates to persuade them to back her candidacy or hold off from endorsing Obama until the voting in the final primaries was over. Indeed, two new superdelegates ? one from Louisiana and one from New York ? announced Monday they would support Clinton, but Obama was picking up even more.

Mark Aronchick, a national fundraiser for Clinton based in Philadelphia, said he was calling "any superdelegate I know" including those who have publicly endorsed Obama in hopes of winning their support. While he said he expected Clinton to stay in the race until Obama secured enough delegates for the nomination, he acknowledged that she faced long odds.

"We're not withdrawing. We're not conceding. We're going on to the end," Aronchick said, adding that whatever the outcome, Democrats would have to move quickly to restore party unity "from top to bottom."

Other prominent supporters who have been with Clinton for months said they would stay loyal until she made a decision going forward.

"She should do what she perceives is best for her," said Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, who helped Clinton to a resounding win in his state's March primary.

Tellingly, though, the popular first-term governor didn't have any public plan to campaign for Clinton anywhere Monday.

Kathy Sullivan, the former New Hampshire Democratic Party chairwoman whose endorsement helped Clinton win that state's political death-defying primary in January, said she had tried to call Clinton Monday.

"I left her a message that said, basically, 'Whatever you decide to do, I'm with you 100 percent. But don't bother calling back, I'm sure you're busy,'" Sullivan said.

In South Dakota, supporters at Tally's Restaurant waited more than four hours for her to arrive. Many encouraged her to stay in the race.

"You keep fighting; you've got guts," Richard Willert, a retired carpenter told her.

But there were signs that, at least here in the heartland, Clinton supporters did not bear animosity to Obama and could see themselves voting for him as well.

"I think he can be a leader," said Karen Schaefer, a retired elementary school teacher.