May 22, 2008 — -- Hillary Clinton has vowed to stay in the game, but some critics contend she is looking to change the rules.
The New York senator's resounding victory in the Kentucky primary Tuesday let "the naysayers and skeptics" know that she was still very much a candidate, she said.
She will remain in the race, but the viability of her candidacy may depend on the outcome of a meeting of Democratic Party officials to determine whether and how to count the delegates from Michigan and Florida.
In January, when Michigan and Florida held their primaries, it seemed the party's decision to strip the states of their delegates would serve as a symbolic punishment with little actual influence on the race. At that time, both Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama agreed to play by the party's rules and Obama went so far as to remove his name from the ballot in Michigan.
The race has markedly changed since then and Clinton wants the party's 30-member Rules and Bylaws Committee to overturn its decision when it meets May 30. She says the party should count all of Michigan and Florida's delegates -- 368 in all.
"Some say that counting Florida and Michigan would be changing the rules," she told supporters in Boca Raton, Fla., Wednesday. "I say that not counting Michigan and Florida is changing a central governing rule of this country."
Critics contend that Clinton's push to get the committee to overturn its decision is an attempt to change the rules midgame and a last-ditch effort to save her campaign in the face of mounting support for Obama.
"Now is not the time for our party to have a dialogue about which states should count," she said in Florida.
"We cannot move forward as a united party if some members are left out. I want to be sure all 50 states are counted and your delegates are seated at our convention." she said. "Join me in making sure your voices are raised and heard."
Clinton did not always feel so strongly. In the early days of the campaign she said Michigan would not count.
"It's clear," Clinton told New Hampshire Public Radio in the fall, "this election [Michigan is] having is not going to count for anything. I personally did not think it made any difference whether or not my name was on the ballot."
Clinton's fight may ultimately be for naught. It is doubtful that she will win enough pledged delegates and superdelegates to secure the nomination even if Michigan and Florida's delegates are counted.
After Tuesday's primaries in Kentucky and Oregon, Obama gained a majority of the available pledged delegates, a symbolic milestone that may influence many of the undecided superdelegates both candidates need to secure the nomination.
ABC News has crunched the numbers and even with Michigan and Florida included Obama has a significant lead in delegates.
"In the total universe of delegates, there are 311 outstanding: 217 of those are as of yet uncommitted superdelegates, 94 are thus far unallocated pledged delegates from last night's contest in Oregon and the upcoming three contests in Puerto Rico, South Dakota and Montana," wrote David Chalian, ABC News political director.
Clinton needs 84 percent of all the remaining delegates -- pledged and superdelegates -- to hit 2,026, the magic number needed to lock up the nomination.
Obama needs just 23 percent of all the remaining delegates to hit 2,026.With the current rules for delegate math against her, Clinton has pushed to increase the overall delegate total needed to win up to 2,210, or to instead consider using the popular vote as a metric.
Obama leads in the popular vote if Michigan and Florida are excluded from the count. He also leads in popular votes if Florida is added.
Clinton, however, has more popular votes if all the states, including Michigan and Florida, are included in the total.
But Obama did not campaign in Michigan and his name was removed from the ballot before the race.
The Democratic Party would not be convening a meeting to resolve the issue if not for Clinton, said ABC News consultant Matthew Dowd.
"The DNC [Democratic National Committee] is considering changing the rules, and they wouldn't be changing the rules unless she wanted them to meet and discuss it. She obviously wants to see the rules changed. Her staff should have set up a campaign that worked within the confines of the current rules," he said. "It is as if Barack Obama is on the 99-yard line and in the final moments of the game Clinton wants the football field extended from 100 to 120 yards."
Many of Clinton's advisers are former party insiders, including Terry McAuliffe, her campaign's chairman and former party chairman, who helped make the rule in the first place.
"What is amazing to me is that she has got a camp filled with DNC operatives. These are the people who essentially created the rules," Dowd said. "She has been in the game a long time. It's not as if she's new to this and didn't know better. Her campaign is run by the insiders who have been running the party for the past 16 years."
For his part, Obama has tried to strike a conciliatory tone, careful not to prematurely declare victory or alienate Clinton's key supporters -- women and working-class whites.
Last year, the Democrats barred Florida and Michigan from having their votes counted after they scheduled primaries in January, despite being instructed not to vote until Feb. 5 or later.
Michigan and Florida lost all their delegates to the national convention, and all the Democratic candidates agreed not to campaign in the two states, stripping them of all the influence they were trying to build by voting early.
It appears now that when the committee meets May 30, a compromise will be reached, in which a portion of the delegates from both states or, more likely, just Florida will be awarded to the candidates.