Defiant Clinton looks for win in Puerto Rico primary

Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton campaigned here in earnest Sunday for more electoral votes, in a presidential nominating contest that has mostly slipped from her once-formidable grasp.

Puerto Rico's primary will award 55 delegates to the victor, but the island's residents — all U.S. citizens — cannot vote in the November general election.

Clinton, who spent the weekend campaigning here, has strong support in pre-election polls. A win here would demonstrate her strength among Hispanic voters, who have supported her in primaries already held in states such as California, Arizona and Texas.

On Saturday, the Democratic Party's Rules and Bylaws Committee agreed to give disputed delegates from Florida and Michigan a half vote each at the party's nominating convention in Denver. The decision angered Clinton and did little to help her close the gap rival Barack Obama has on delegates needed to clinch the nomination.

With the panel's decision, Obama is now within 66 delegates of the 2,118 needed for the nomination. Clinton has 1,877 delegates.

Obama is campaigning in South Dakota, which with Montana holds the last nominating contests on Tuesday. Polls in South Dakota and Montana show Obama leading in those states, which have a total of 31 delegates.

Clinton stopped into the Kastela Bakery on Sunday morning to shake hands and pick up a cafe con leche and a pastry. Polls close at 3 p.m.. Turnout is not expected to be particularly high.

She had a supporter in Virginia Guevara, who was having her regular Sunday breakfast. "She's the one that's been taking care of Puerto Ricans since Clinton's presidency," Guevara said. "She was with us when the hurricane hit. She considers herself one of us."

As for Obama, Guevara said, "we don't know him."

Voting in the primary is important even though she can't vote in November "to spread the word that we're interested in the process," says Guevara, who favors statehood for Puerto Rico.

Her brother, Victor Ernesto Guevara favors Obama and opposes statehood. "I don't think we should be voting in the primary. We shouldn't be getting into the U.S.'s business — and vice versa," says the brother, who was visiting from Amherst, Mass.

Clinton's high profile here is due, in part, to the popularity of former President Bill Clinton. But as New York's senator, As a senator, Clinton represents some 1 million Puerto Ricans who now live in the Empire State. She has worked on issues key to Puerto Ricans, such as ending the Navy's bombing on the island of Vieques.

While she has not taken sides on the longstanding issue of statehood, she promises to get the issue resolved in her first term as president. Obama has made a similar pledge.

"I also will work to make sure that the people of Puerto Rico have the right to decide by majority vote what your future status should be," Clinton told some 6,000 members of the Congregacion Mita, a homegrown Puerto Rican Christian denomination, at a church service Saturday evening.

"From day one of my presidency, I will work with all factions and with the congress without preference or any option to give you the right to make that decision. And that I will work to imprlement that decision," she said.

Clinton kicked off a weekend of campaigning Friday night with a rally, then rode on the back of a pickup around San Juan's suburbs all day Saturday.

"Campaigning in Puerto Rico is like one long Puerto Rican Day parade," she said cheerfully on Saturday, invoking the annual New York City event that draws big crowds and plenty of politicians.

But defeat in the rules committee might have taken some steam out of Clinton's campaign. After touring suburban San Juan in a caravan with enthusiasm — smiling and waving — for five hours despite rain and sparse crowds, Clinton ended the caravan shortly after the rules committee decision was announced, some 90 minutes before its previously scheduled conclusion.