On the eve of today's primaries in Kentucky and Oregon, Hillary Rodham Clinton warned that the Democratic race is not yet over, while rival Barack Obama jumped ahead to a general-election fight with Republican John McCain.
Clinton told a Kentucky audience Monday that Obama may be getting ahead of himself before the last votes are cast on June 3. "This is nowhere near over," she said.
Obama is expected to reach a majority of pledged delegates awarded from nominating contests with a win today in Oregon, where he is leading state polls. But he will need votes from party leaders known as superdelegates to reach the 2,026 needed to clinch the nomination. Clinton has a wide lead in Kentucky polls.
Obama campaign spokesman Robert Gibbs told USA TODAY that the campaign is not taking things for granted with a visit tonight in Iowa, where Obama won the nation's first caucuses in January.
The Iowa trip "isn't about declaring ourselves the nominee," Gibbs said. "It's about coming back to where it all started, marking a milestone and planting our flag for the fall."
Clinton's campaign reinforced that the fight is not yet over with a memo entitled: "Mission Accomplished? Not so fast." She also dispatched supporters from rural Upstate New York, including a dairy farmer, to campaign in Montana where Obama spent much of Monday.
In a sign that some Clinton supporters believe the end is near, Politico reported former Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle is in talks to join the Obama campaign. "If Barack Obama's the nominee, I'll do everything I can to get him elected," Doyle told Politico.
At a Billings, Mont., rally, Obama largely ignored Clinton and criticized McCain. The presumptive Republican nominee declared Obama showed "inexperience and reckless judgment" over the weekend when Obama said Iran did not pose the same threat to the USA as the Soviet Union did during the Cold War.
Obama essentially said the same at West Billings High School, as he explained he would meet with Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"The Soviet Union had the ability to destroy the world several times over," Obama said. "The threat from Iran is grave, but what we've said is that we shouldn't just talk to our friends, we should be able to engage our enemies as well."
McCain said such a meeting would increase Ahmadinejad's prestige and embolden him to acquire nuclear weapons. "The threat the government of Iran poses is anything but tiny," McCain said during a speech in Obama's home turf of Chicago.
On Monday, Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia was among the superdelegates who endorsed Obama's bid to become the first black president. Byrd, a former Ku Klux Klan member who once opposed 1964 Civil Rights Act, voted against the Iraq war.
Obama touts that he was against the war from the start, a reference to Clinton's 2002 vote authorizing President Bush to use military force in Iraq.
In Oregon, Clinton is backed by Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski, a superdelegate. But Tim Hibbitts, an independent pollster in the state, said Obama has a stronger on-the-ground organization.
"The Democratic race has been driven by demographics," Hibbitts said. "In this state, the demographics favor Obama. It doesn't have a large African-American vote, but it has large numbers of middle- to upper-middle-class liberal voters who are likely to favor him. "
A victory next month in Montana, where blacks make up less than 1% of the population, could help Obama convince superdelegates that he can win over white, working-class voters who have been the mainstay of Clinton's support.
The last Democrat to win Montana was Bill Clinton in 1992. President Bush won Montana by 20 percentage points in 2004.
Dennis McDonald, chairman of the Montana Democratic Party, called the contest between Clinton and Obama "fluid" with both appealing to many new voters. "I don't see either candidate having a decisive advantage right now," said McDonald, who is neutral.
McDonald, a rancher, had planned to move his 500 head of Angus cattle to new pastureland on Monday, but rescheduled the job so he could meet with Obama, who made his second visit to the state.
"It's wonderful for Democrats in Montana to have all this attention," he said. "We're accustomed to being ignored."
Schouten reported from the Obama campaign. Contributing: The Associated Press.