NEW YORK — Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton Tuesday refused to bow out of the Democratic race Tuesday, hoping to maintain leverage as Barack Obama clinched the delegates needed to secure the party's nomination.
Clinton told supporters in a rally at Baruch College that she would consult party leaders in coming days on how to move forward, but that, "I will be making no decisions tonight."
"A lot of people are asking, 'What does Hillary want?'" Clinton said. "I want what I have always fought for: I want the nearly 18 million people who voted for me to be respected and heard."
Clinton told the crowd she would consult in the coming days with advisers about the fate of her moribund candidacy. But her remarks came hours after she told congressional colleagues she would be open to joining Obama as his running mate.
Top supporters see her as V.P.
Many of her top supporters spoke openly of Clinton's potential vice presidential prospects. Lanny Davis, a former White House special counsel under President Clinton, said he told the former first lady Tuesday that he was initiating a petition to press Obama to select her for the second spot on the ticket. He said Clinton did not encourage or discourage the step.
"If he doesn't have her, I think he can still win. With her on the ticket, he can't be beat," Davis said.
Clinton's national finance chairman, Hassan Nemazee, said he was also pushing an Obama-Clinton ticket, claiming that together they would be able to raise $200 million to $250 million for the general election.
Advisers indicated earlier Tuesday that the former first lady would publicly acknowledge in her speech that Obama had crossed the delegate threshold. But she changed her mind and refused to do so even after NBC News and The Associated Press declared the Illinois senator had sealed the nomination.
Her advisers said they considered the delegate numbers to be unreliable, even as the AP estimated Obama had several more than the 2,118 needed to nominate. Earlier, Clinton acknowledged on a conference call with New York lawmakers that the delegate math was not there for her to overtake Obama, according to several participants on the call.
A vow to beat McCain
She said none of that publicly Tuesday but vowed the Democratic Party would unite in its effort to defeat Republican John McCain in November.
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“I am so proud we stayed the course together,” she said to cheers. “I am committed to uniting our party so we move forward stronger and more ready than ever to take back the White House this November.”
But she emphasized that she had won more votes in primaries and caucuses than Obama, and she refused to say she was ending her campaign.
Aides said that was a strategic decision to preserve her leverage to negotiate over policy disagreements and the possibility that she would join Obama’s ticket as the vice presidential nominee.
Clinton wants to press Obama on issues he should focus on in the fall, such as health care.
Universal health care, Clinton's signature issue as first lady in the 1990s, was a point of dispute between Obama and the New York senator during their epic nomination fight.
'I am open to it'
Clinton's vice presidential remarks came in response to a question from Democratic Rep. Nydia Velazquez, who said she believed the best way for Obama to win key voting blocs, including Hispanics, would be for him to choose Clinton as his running mate.
According to an NBC News source, Clinton said if Obama were to ask her to be on the ticket, she would be interested.
"I am open to it," Clinton replied, if it would help the party's prospects in November.
Clinton also told colleagues the delegate math was not there for her to overtake Obama, but that she wanted to take time to determine how to leave the race in a way that would best help Democrats.
"I deserve some time to get this right," she said, even as the other lawmakers forcefully argued for her to press Obama to choose her as his running mate.
'She'll be available'
Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., a prominent Clinton supporter, told NBC News that “certainly to the extent that she will do anything to win ... she’ll be available.”
Slideshow: Historic night in U.S. politics “She’ll do whatever is needed,” Rangel said. “If people think it would help, she’d do it.”
Lisa Caputo, a longtime Clinton adviser, said Clinton “knows the math just isn’t there, so everybody needs to be a realist.”
Aides to Obama said he and Clinton had not spoken about the prospects of her joining the ticket.
Clinton aides told NBC News that Clinton would seek a meeting with Obama as soon as possible, perhaps as early as Wednesday, when they could cross paths twice. First they will be in Washington to address the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and later they will be in New York for a round of party fundraisers.
Word of Clinton's vice presidential musings came before she delivered the televised address to supporters on the final night of the epic primary season. She worked out final details of the speech at her Chappaqua, New York, home with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, their daughter Chelsea, and close aides.
'Her campaign is over'
While Clinton will continue to speak out on issues like health care, for all intents and purposes, two senior officials said, her campaign is over.
Clinton field hands who worked in key battlegrounds said they were told to stand down, without pay, and await instructions. Speaking not for attribution because they didn't want to jeopardize their job searches, many said they were peddling resumes, returning to their hometowns or seeking out former employers.
Clinton officials have said they would not contest the seating of Michigan delegates at the convention in Denver this August. The campaign was angry this past weekend when a Democratic National Committee panel awarded Obama delegates it thought Clinton deserved.
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