Obama: ‘Clinton Can Run as Long as She Wants’

Mar 29, 2008 5:55pm

ABC News’ David Wright, Sunlen Miller and Alyssa Litoff report: On day two of his six-day bus tour throughout Pennsylvania, Sen. Barack Obama said he does not completely agree to Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy’s assertion that Sen. Hillary Clinton should get out of the race.

Responding to reporters’ questions in Johnstown, Obama said the calls for her to withdraw are still premature in his eyes.

"I hadn’t talked to Pat about it," Obama said. "My attitude is that Sen. Clinton can run as long as she wants. Her name is on the ballot … she should be able to compete and her supporters should be able to support her for as long as they are willing or able."

Obama did hint to a time frame, saying he thinks a nominee should be chosen as quickly as possible after the contests wrap up in June so that person can start preparing for the general election.

"Some time in early June that at that point there are no more contests and I think it is important to pivot as quickly as possible, for the super delegates or others to make a decision as quickly as possible so that we can settle on a nominee and give that nominee some time before the convention to select a vice president or presidential nominee to start thinking about how the convention should be conducted," he said.

In addition to the need for general election prep, Obama added that after the June primaries there will not be any further information to be had.

"We will have had contests in all 50 states plus several territories," he said. "We will have tallied up the pledge delegate vote. We will have tallied up the popular vote, we will have tallied up how many states that were won by who. And then at that point I think people should have more than enough information to make a decision."

Obama said that he also does not agree completely with the idea that the Democratic Party will be hurt by the length of this nomination process.

"I think that the notion that the party has been divided by this contest is somewhat overstated. There’s no doubt that among some of my supporters or some of her supporters there’s probably been some irritation created, but I also think that in every contest you’ve seen in every state huge jumps in Democratic registration, including independents and Republicans who are changing registration to vote in the Democratic primaries," Obama said. "Those are people who are now invested in what happens. I think that bodes very well for us in November. I think the party is going to come together."

Recent polls that found large percentages of Citon and Obama supporters said they would either vote for Sen. John McCain or sit the election out if their candidate is not the Democratic nominee. But Obama said that he’s sure Clinton’s supporters will be able to support him over McCain in the end, and vice versa for his supporters if Clinton were the nominee.

"You can’t tell me that some of my supporters are going to say, ‘well, we’d rather have the guy who may want to stay in Iraq for a hundred years because we are mad that Sen. Clinton ran a negative ad against Sen. Obama," he said. "I think the converse is true as well. I think Senator Clinton’s supporters will ultimately look at a comparison and say we think an Obama administration will be very different from a McCain administration."

Obama admitted earlier in a town hall that his road in Pennsylvania will be a hard one. He called himself the "underdog" in the state, where polls have consistently found Clinton to be ahead in the polls.

The campaign, launching the six-day bus tour across the state from west to east is an attempt to introduce Obama to voters –- with smaller town halls and events planned aiming at some voting blocks Obama has struggled with, such as white blue collar voters.

Obama said that he didn’t think it was naturally a difficult state for him but rather blamed it on Clinton’s name notoriety and institutional endorsements such as that of Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell.

"I’m not as well known as Sen. Clinton is in this state, which is reflected in the polls, and she’s got a popular Democratic governor who gave her a good head start, and provided her with some institutional support," Obama said.

On the other hand, Obama admitted his recent endorsement by the state’s Sen. Bob Casey Jr. helps in Pennsylvania but he still downplayed expectations.

"We may not be able to win, but I think we’ve got a good chance and we’re going to work as hard as we can," he said.

This morning Obama and Casey hit the basketball courts before a full day of campaigning, shooting hoops at a local high school.

"You were boxing out, which is what we need," Obama said to Casey, insinuating that they will need a good defensive effort off the court as well.

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