ABC’s David Chalian, Teddy Davis, Eloise Harper, Kate Snow and Sunlen Miller report: Sen. Hillary Clinton is ready to fight for the Democratic nomination all the way to the Democratic National Convention in August if that’s what it takes, but her top strategists say they’re not expecting a nasty brawl in Denver.
"My prediction is there will be no fight," said Clinton campaign advisor Harold Ickes on a conference call with reporters Saturday. "All of this is going to be settled out before we hit the floor."
"We don’t think our party or our candidate will be served by a bitter floor fight," he added later.
But Ickes also made it very clear that Clinton would not give up without a fight — no matter what happens in the upcoming primary battles with Sen. Barack Obama.
Ickes conceded that Clinton is not doing as well in the fight for delegates as she might have been doing if her campaign had paid more attention to states that hold caucuses — states where Obama has scored big victories recently.
"We didn’t make as much of an effort as we probably should have," he said.
But he predicted that Clinton will "hold her own" in Wisconsin on Tuesday night and said the campaign expects her to win in Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island on March 4. Ickes said the demographics of Pennsylvania also favor Clinton and predicted she will win there on April 22.
While the Obama campaign has predicted he will stay ahead in the race for delegates, the Clinton camp says Obama is getting ahead of himself and declaring victory prematurely.
"He’d like to be nominated right now, but there are a lot of delegates who have yet to be selected," Ickes said.
They see a tied ballgame.
After the last Democratic primary contest in Puerto Rico in June, Ickes said Clinton and Obama will be "neck and neck."
"Shortly after that she will wrap it up," he predicted.
That presumes that Clinton will be able to convince Democratic superdelegates — party leaders and elected officials — to support Clinton even if the people they represent have voted for Obama.
Ickes said those superdelegates, which the Clinton campaign prefers to call "automatic delegates," will be key.
"The central fact is, notwithstanding all the controversy ginned up by the Obama campaign, both of these candidates are going to need them," Ickes said.
Both campaigns continue to aggressively court superdelegate support.
Obama spokesman Bill Burton said today that they would continue to pursue superdelegates even though they believe they can win the nomination without them.
"We’re not going to unilaterally disarm as the Clinton campaign does its best to use superdelegates to overturn the will of the Democratic voters," Burton said.
Clinton’s camp, meanwhile, contends that superdelegates should not be swayed by the voters of their districts but should support the person they think is best fit to be president.
"Automatic delegates are supposed to exercise their best judgment," Ickes said.
The Clinton campaign is also continuing to push for delegates from Florida and Michigan to be counted at the convention.
Ironically, last summer Ickes — as a sitting member of the Democratic National Committee Rules and Bylaws Commission — voted to strip those states of their delegates when the states moved up their primaries to dates before February 5. Those moves were seen as a threat to the traditional first states Iowa and New Hampshire and were therefore punished by the party.
"With respect to the stripping, I voted as a member of the Democratic National Committee. Those were our rules and I felt that we had an obligation to enforce them," Ickes said.
But now Ickes, as a member of Clinton’s team, wants to change the rules.
"Why should Florida not be heard at the convention?" Ickes asked today.
He said some 1.7 million Democrats voted in Florida and their voices should be heard. And he rejected the idea of a do-over, as some have suggested.
Although she did not actively campaign in Florida — under an agreement made by all of the Democratic candidates — Clinton easily won the majority of Florida’s delegates back in January.
"The process has taken place. Everybody was on an equal footing. We see no reason for a re-do," Ickes said.
Former Mississippi Gov. Ray Mabus, responding for the Obama campaign, said that if the superdelegates don’t go with the voters, then "in real technical language what we’re going to have is a mess."
On the issue of superdelegates and specifically the Clinton campaign calling them "automatic delegates" Mabus said, "Well I think it’s whatever you want to call them — superdelegates or automatic delegates."
Mabus, ambassador to Saudi Arabia in the Clinton administration, took the most issue with Ickes devaluing Obama’s win’s in red states like Nebraska and Idaho to make the point that the Democrats need states like Florida and California to win the nomination.
He called it "spin" and "criticism for Barack Obama winning red states."
"Their argument that somehow if you live in Mississippi or Alabama or Georgia that your vote ought to be discounted, that we shouldn’t make an effort, that’s just a theory that has been cobbled together to represent the results that have transpired so far," he said
Mabus said the only way Democrats can win in November is to pick up small states, too — otherwise there’s no margin for error for the Democrats.
"The Clinton message appears to be keep doing what we’ve been doing in the past two elections — and that attitude has hurt us," he said.