“In order for us to be successful in November, the runner-up is going to have to go all out in support of the nominee … the runner-up is going to have to be there from Day One. The support is going to have to be more than just lip service.” ~ Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
By ADAM NAGOURNEY, CARL HULSE and JEFF ZELENY
(New York Times) The most fiery and exhausting presidential primary campaign in at least a generation is sputtering to an end, with Senator Barack Obama likely to gain enough delegates to claim the Democratic nomination later this week as the party faces another drama: how, when and even whether Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton will depart the race.
Montana and South Dakota will vote Tuesday, after Puerto Rico does so on Sunday, finishing a process that began precisely five months ago to the day in Iowa. Even if those results do not put Mr. Obama over the top, aides to both Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton said they expect enough superdelegates to rally behind Mr. Obama in the 48 hours after the final primaries to allow him to proclaim himself the nominee.
In many ways, Mr. Obama is wheezing across the finish line after making a strong start: He has won only 6 of the 13 Democratic contests held since March 4, drawing 6.1 million votes, compared with 6.6 million for Mrs. Clinton.
Still, Mrs. Clinton’s associates said she seemed to have come to terms over the last week with the near-certainty that she will not win the nomination, even as she continues to assert, with what one associate described as subdued resignation, that the Democrats are making a mistake in sending Mr. Obama up against Senator John McCain.
One of the last procedural fights took place Saturday in Washington where, with demonstrators supporting Mrs. Clinton marching outside, the Democratic Party’s Rules and Bylaws Committee struggled with the question of whether to seat at the convention members of the disputed delegations from Florida and Michigan. Those states have been sanctioned by the party for holding their contests in January in defiance of the primary calendar laid out by the Democratic National Committee.
Mrs. Clinton has kept her counsel about what she might do to draw her campaign to a close and when she might do it. Her associates said the most likely outcome is that she will end her bid with a speech, probably back home in New York, in which she would endorse Mr. Obama. Mrs. Clinton herself suggested on Friday that the contest will end sometime next week.
Still, she has signaled her ambivalence about the outcome, continuing to urge superdelegates to keep an open mind and consider, for example, the number of popular votes she has won. Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee, a superdelegate who has been at the forefront of calling for uncommitted Democrats to make a choice soon after the last vote, said in an interview that Mrs. Clinton called him last week and urged him to “keep an open mind until the convention.”
Assuming Mr. Obama reaches the total number of delegates and superdelegates he needs to secure the nomination in the coming week, Mrs. Clinton will be faced with three options, associates said: to suspend her campaign and endorse Mr. Obama; to suspend her campaign without making an endorsement; or to press the fight through the convention. Several of Mrs. Clinton’s associates said it was unlikely she would fight through the convention, given the potential damage it would do to her standing within the party, which is increasingly eager to unify and turn to the battle against Mr. McCain.
Mrs. Clinton would almost surely face the defection of some of her highest-profile supporters, as well as some members of her staff. She would no doubt also face anger from Democratic leaders as she contemplates a return to the Senate and, potentially, another run for the White House.
Bringing the Party Back Together
“After June 3, it means nothing. Those who take a little bit of a risk, he’ll remember you.” ~ Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico
“In order for us to be successful in November, the runner-up is going to have to go all out in support of the nominee,” said Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “The runner-up is going to have to be there from Day One. The support is going to have to be more than just lip service.”
Mr. Obama’s associates calculate he will need the votes of probably just 30 more superdelegates – elected Democrats and party leaders – to claim a majority of delegates after the last primary vote is counted, assuming expected outcomes in Puerto Rico, South Dakota and Montana and taking into account the disputed delegations Florida and Michigan. (Depending on the resolution of that dispute, Mr. Obama would need around 2,120 delegates to get his party’s nod).
Mr. Obama’s aides said he had, as of Friday, 1,985 delegates; 86 delegates are going to be allocated in Puerto Rico, Montana and South Dakota, and Mr. Obama is likely to get at least half of them.
As of Friday, about 150 superdelegates were not officially listed as being committed, including 17 senators and at least 47 House members. Mr. Obama’s supporters have been hammering away at them, urging them to move quickly to his camp.
“A number of people have reported that various members intend to endorse AFTER the last primary,” said one e-mail message to wavering delegates from Mr. Obama’s supporters, its warning barely couched. “Those members need to understand that they won’t get any visibility from that.”
Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, who endorsed Mr. Obama nearly two months ago and campaigned with him last week, recently called Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. of Colorado, who has yet to endorse. “Hey Ritter!” Mr. Richardson said. “After June 3, it means nothing. Those who take a little bit of a risk, he’ll remember you.”
On the other end of the line, Mr. Ritter demurred, saying he had pledged to remain neutral until the primary seasons ends.
Mr. Obama has already turned his campaign away from Mrs. Clinton to face Mr. McCain. Mrs. Clinton is barely mentioned by Mr. Obama anymore, and his schedule is now focused as much on general election battlegrounds as it is on the remaining primaries. Mr. Obama is planning to mark the final election night of this primary season in St. Paul.
“That’s where the Republican convention is going to be,” said David Axelrod, the campaign’s chief strategist. “It seems like a good place to start the discussion about which direction we’re going to go as a country.”
Similarly, Mrs. Clinton and her aides have all but stopped their attacks on Mr. Obama. The once vigorous Clinton war room has gone into a slumber, stirring back to life only when a controversy erupts, as when Mrs. Clinton came under attack for mentioning the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in June 1968 in explaining why she staying in the race.
Indeed, the talk in Mrs. Clinton’s headquarters has turned from the primary to more mundane matters: the next job, who Mr. Obama might hire from the Clinton campaign, and even where to go on vacation.
The question in the weeks ahead is the extent to which the bitterness between these two candidates, both historic figures, can be erased. Two associates who spoke to Mrs. Clinton said they had no doubt that she would campaign for him without ambivalence – whether or not they end up as a ticket, one of the big questions lingering.
While there is tension and sore feelings on both sides, Mr. Obama has directed his campaign aides in all departments to begin reaching out to their counterparts in the Clinton camp.
“Our responsibility is to make clear that we are interested in full unification of the party,” said David Plouffe, the manager of Mr. Obama’s campaign. “We’re going to be welcoming and open and respectful.”
Mr. Obama’s advisers said he would make no formal statement of victory, with the assumption that the moment would be elaborately marked by the media.
“At some point, declarations are almost superfluous: When you have the requisite number of delegates, you’ve won,” Mr. Axelrod said. “The fact is, we’re going to turn our attention to the general election. With less than six months to go, there’s not a moment to waste.”
One of Mrs. Clinton’s chief strategists, Howard Wolfson, hinted that she was not inclined to carry the battle to the convention.
“Our focus is on securing the nomination for ourselves in the near term,” he said. “I don’t think anybody is looking toward the convention to end this process.”
The pressure on Democrats from Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, to choose sides quickly and end the race was causing complication for some members who would just as soon not make this decision.
“As hard as this may be to believe, a number of us really do like and respect them both, and the idea of choosing one over the other is not an easy thing to do,” said Senator Thomas R. Carper, Democrat of Delaware.
At least a dozen uncommitted delegates – like Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the No. 3 Democrat in the House – are viewed by both sides as almost certain to side with Mr. Obama once the primary season ends. But there are dozens of uncommitted superdelegates who resisted endorsements for reasons that are personal, political and pragmatic – ranging from a fear of alienating contributors to reluctance among lawmakers from relatively conservative districts to be identified with either Mr. Obama or Mrs. Clinton.