Clinton Fights on After Stinging Defeat in N.C., Narrow Win in Ind.

Dem contender made her case to party insiders Wednesday.


May 7, 2008 — -- A day after her loss in North Carolina and a disappointing, razor-thin win in Indiana, Hillary Clinton said she was determined to stay in the race.

"It's a new day, it's a new state, it's a new election," Clinton told reporters at a press conference in West Virginia on Wednesday.

"I'm staying in this race until there's a nominee," Clinton later added, saying she feels "really good" about her performance in Indiana and emphasized that she continues to win groups — white, middle class, middle income voters — essential to winning a general election against John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee.

But Clinton refrained from the type of harsh criticism of the Democratic frontrunner, Barack Obama, that has been more commonplace on the campaign trail recently.

Clinton added that she didn't "buy" the argument that a continuing nomination fight would ultimately hurt the Democratic nominee in the fall, arguing she is staying in the race because she believes she would be a stronger candidate against McCain and would be the best president.

Clinton's woes extended to her campaign finances.

The Clinton campaign announced Wednesday that in the last month the senator has loaned herself $6.425 million — bringing her grand total of "loans" to her campaign to $11.425 million — making her the second biggest self-funder this election cycle, behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Clinton made three new loans to her campaign over the last month, two of them following her win in the Pennsylvania Democratic primary.

On April 11, Sen. Clinton loaned her campaign $5 million; on May 1, she loaned $1 million; and on May 5, she loaned $425,000.

Insiders says Clinton "will continue to" loan money to the campaign as the race turns toward the final six contests in five states and Puerto Rico.

The fight for the Democratic nomination may, however, ultimately be out of the voters' hands, as Democratic superdelegates may be the only ones in a position to persuade Clinton to either continue her fight or fold her campaign.

Following her event in West Virginia, Clinton drove to the Democratic National Committee party headquarters on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC for a meeting with Democratic Party superdelegates who may ultimately decide her political fate.

"The [meeting] goal is to make the case to the superdelegates that Senator Clinton would be the best nominee," said Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson on a conference call with reporters Wednesday.

The Clinton campaign maintains that these were previously scheduled meetings designed to ask high-profile party members for their support for her presidential campaign. ABC News estimates there are 263 superdelegates who have yet to declare who they will back — 80 of those on Capitol Hill.

ABC News has learned that Obama is scheduled to meet with superdelegates on Thuesday.

On a conference call with reporters Wednesday, supporters of Obama's were careful not to call for Clinton to withdraw from the race, arguing it is her decision to make.

"It would be inappropriate and awkward and wrong with any of us to tell Senator Clinton when it is time for this race to be over," said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who is backing Obama. " I am confident that she will do the right thing for the democratic nominee. And confident that she will work hard for the party."

However Obama supporters are stepping up the pressure on superdelegates, calling on them to make their decisions known now.

"Over the course of the next week superdelegates are going to exercise their judgment and responsibly," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who is also backing Obama.

"Now is the time for superdelegates, as we wind our way down to the last states, to announce their preference," said Gov. Janet Napolitano, D-Ariz.

Obama's campaign boasted picking up the support of three superdelegates Wednesday while Clinton picked up one.

Clinton arrives on Capitol Hill Wednesday as former Sen. George McGovern, D-S.D., who had backed Clinton, urged her to drop out of the presidential race and announced he is now supporting Obama.

McGovern isn't a superdelegate but a high-profile Democrat whose defection will be both a political and personal blow to her. She has fondly spoke about cutting her political teeth on McGovern's 1972 presidential campaign in Texas.

With pundits declaring the Democratic nominating race over, superdelegates may also be swayed by the media and a drip-drip of defections from Clinton to Obama.

"Obviously superdelegates watch TV, they read the newspaper …but in the end I think they are more influenced by electoral outcomes … and arguments about who would be the stronger nominee in November," argued Wolfson.

Democratic strategist and Clinton supporter James Carville argued Wednesday that Clinton would stay in the race even if party members increased pressure on her to bow out.

"Why would she get out of the race? Of course she's going to stay in the race," Carville told CNN Wednesday morning. "I'm a sports fan, and no one ever ends a game before it's over," he added.

But Sen. Teddy Kennedy, D-Mass, one of the highest profile Obama backers, said today the writing is on the wall.

"I pay tribute to Senator Clinton," Kennedy said, "She has been making her case and doing it effectively, but the outcome is very clear as to what's for the democratic nomination. Its effectively Barack Obama's nomination. Its pretty effectively sewed up and I don't see any possibility of altering or changing that inevitable fact."

Under Democratic Party rules, the superdelegates — those 796 senators, members of Congress, state party leaders, national party leaders, and former Democratic presidents — get to act as free agents at the party's convention in Denver this August and can back either Obama or Clinton.

With six primary state votes left, neither candidate can get the 2,025 delegates needed to secure their party's nomination, making the superdelegates veritable kingmakers.

That's led to a vociferous, behind-the-scenes charm offensive by both candidates to woo superdelegates, with Obama arguing they must vote according to their state's wishes, and Clinton arguing only she can withstand general election attacks from the Republicans.

Many super delegates, who are regularly called by the ABC News political unit and other media outlets and asked which candidate they intend to back, have told ABC News they have received personal pleas from Obama and Clinton, former President Bill Clinton and former first daughter Chelsea Clinton.

The pressure on these 796 party officials is enormous.

On one hand, their decisions will affect the presidential aspirations of a candidate who could ultimately become the president of the United States in a few short months — and could be a powerful political ally for them personally.

On the other hand, their decisions will be scrutized by the rank-and-file of the party, potential new voters, not to mention the media — and the legitimacy of their vote has already been called into question.

"If 795 of my colleagues decide this election, I will quit the Democratic Party. I feel very strongly about this," Donna Brazile said in February. Brazile, who managed Al Gore's presidential campaign in 2000, is herself an undeclared superdelegate.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos in March that it would be "harmful" to Democrats if superdelegates were to give the party's presidential nomination to a candidate who is trailing in the delegate count — a comment that lent considerable support to Obama.

"If the votes of the super delegates overturn what's happened in the elections," said Pelosi, "it would be harmful to the Democratic Party."

Clinton has maintained that delegates from Florida and Michigan — states where she received more votes than any other candidate, with the caveat that Obama's name was not on the Michigan ballot and at the time neither race was expected to "count" — should be seated at the convention. In recent days Clinton has tried to re-set the bar for winning the Democratic nomination to 2,209.

That figure — 2209 delegates — assumes that Florida and Michigan's delegates are included in the overall count. By re-setting the delegate bar, Clinton may be better able to argue to superdelegates that Obama has not sufficiently won the race if he reaches or gets close to 2025.

However even if those two delegations are seated in full — an unlikely outcome — Clinton would still lag behind Obama in total delegates.

"If Michigan and Florida are seated fully we estimate we would pick up 58 delegates," said deputy communications dircetor Phil Singer on a conference call with reporters Wednesday, "putting us within a margin of less than 100 total delegates separating Senator Obama and Senator Clinton."

But by staying in the race until the last primaries, Clinton may shore up her leverage to negotiate with Obama and the party to perhaps pay off her campaign debt, or pave the way for her to secure a powerful position such as Senate Majority Leader or New York Governor.

However at this point, the only job Clinton appears to want is the presidency.

The Democratic Party decided more than three decades ago that party leaders and former Democratic politicians should become the ultimate deciders in a tight race.

After the insurgent outsider campaigns of George McGovern and Jimmy Carter won the Democratic party nominations in 1972 and 1976, many party officials felt the need to have a greater role in the process. Superdelegates were created to essentially blunt any party outsider who built up a head of steam in the primaries.

Former Vice President Al Gore, himself an undeclared superdelegate, suggested this week that the party may need to revisit the rules.

Gore told NPR Tuesday the Democratic Party's system of awarding votes to superdelegates "probably … should be examined."

Gore held out the possibility of making an endorsement in the race — but predicted that superdelegates will tip the race to either Obama or Clinton before the Democratic National Convention in Denver this August.

"Even though it has gone on much longer than is normal in the age of primaries and caucuses, nevertheless I think the odds are overwhelming that it will tip rather decisively in one way or the other before the convention even meets," Gore said.

With files from ABC News' Kate Snow, Rick Klein, Z. Byron Wolf, David Chalian, Karen Travers, Teddy Davis, Eloise Harper, Sunlen Miller, Jake Tapper, and Michael Elmore.

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