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Clinton running hard in campaign's last laps

Senator is determined to rack up two big primary victories in the next eight days — in and — as she seeks to prove her continued political viability and claim bargaining chips that might help her exit the race on her terms, her advisers say.
/ Source: The New York Times

Forget the calls for her to quit the presidential race: Senator is determined to rack up two big primary victories in the next eight days — in and — as she seeks to prove her continued political viability and claim bargaining chips that might help her exit the race on her terms, her advisers say.

It is a risky proposition. Mrs. Clinton is behind Senator in both the national popular vote and the delegate count, and she could appear to be a spoiler if she damages his candidacy in those two closely fought states, her advisers acknowledge.

But she and her chief political counselor, her husband, see the two coming primaries as crucial to strengthening her standing and, if it comes to it, to allowing her to leave the race on a high note, the advisers say.

Sizable victories — the Clinton camp believes it could win West Virginia by 25 points or more — might put pressure on Mr. Obama to agree to her demands to seat the disputed delegates from and , some of her advisers say, which would let her claim a victory on a battle she has fought for months. Accumulating victories this late in the primary season — as Mr. Obama looks so strong — might also bolster a bid for the vice presidency, should she decide to seek it. (Whether Mr. Obama would ask her, however, is very much in doubt.)

The two candidates campaigned across West Virginia on Monday, with Mrs. Clinton’s motorcade driving more than two hours through the winding hills of Appalachia, where she courted a relatively small number of voters in hopes of driving up her expected margin of victory. She is counting on a big victory to impress undecided superdelegates, the party leaders who will most likely decide the nomination.

Wants to show strength
Mrs. Clinton also wants to show strength in Kentucky and West Virginia — states Democrats have struggled to carry in presidential elections — not to mention, advisers say, pointing up what the Clinton campaign sees as the weakness of the Obama coalition. But advisers acknowledged that even if she won those states by wide margins, it was probably too late to change the dynamic of the nominating contest in her favor.

“Obama is so far ahead at this point, it is hard to see anything we do, even big wins, being a game-changer at this point,” said one senior adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to assess Mrs. Clinton’s political fortunes.

Mrs. Clinton plans to spend the day after the West Virginia primary meeting with advisers and top fund-raisers to discuss the future of the campaign. Aides said they believed she was likely to remain in the race until the Kentucky primary next Tuesday.

Obama advisers see that day, when Oregon also votes, as the unofficial end of the primary season; they plan to declare victory then by stating that they have locked up a majority of the pledged delegates.

Looking past Clinton
Mr. Obama is now caught between the end of his long primary battle with Mrs. Clinton and the start of the fight with the presumptive Republican nominee, Senator . Mr. Obama’s remarks at stops in West Virginia and Kentucky on Monday seemed largely geared to the fall campaign, with several critiques of Mr. McCain on issues including the economy and Iraq. In Louisville, Ky., on Monday night he praised Mrs. Clinton as a “capable, smart, hard-working, intelligent human being.”

His coming schedule also reflects how his campaign has started to look past Mrs. Clinton. On Wednesday, he is headed to Macomb County, Mich., an area that has long been synonymous with so-called Reagan Democrats. Michigan is a state aides to Mr. McCain see as highly competitive, given the number of blue-collar workers there and Mr. Obama’s difficulties in winning support from those voters in the primaries.

In addition, Michigan — along with Florida — held its primary in defiance of rules, so Mr. Obama did not campaign or build up an organization there.

At a brief news conference at a pool hall in South Charleston, W.Va., Mr. Obama echoed his campaign’s openness to a plan that would end the dispute over how delegates from Michigan would be seated at the Democratic convention this summer.

Under the proposal, 69 Michigan delegates would be seated for Mrs. Clinton, who won the primary there, and 59 would be seated for Mr. Obama, who withdrew his name from the ballot because of the state’s violation of party rules.

“I think it is a legitimate approach to trying to solve the problem,” Mr. Obama said. “There haven’t been final negotiations on it, but what we have said is that we will strongly consider it and I think it is a legitimate approach to trying to resolve an issue.”

Next week, Mr. Obama plans to spend three full days in Florida.

Fighting Clinton and McCain
Mr. Obama’s aides were quick to say that his schedule does not reflect a view that the primary contest with Mrs. Clinton is over, noting that he is also going to Oregon this weekend. But they left no doubt that they were concerned with the head start Mr. McCain is getting in the general election campaign and did not want to leave him unattended.

“Our schedule reflects the fact that we're still fighting for votes and delegates in the remaining contests, but also that we are going to places that are going to be competitive in the fall,” said an Obama spokesman, Bill Burton.

In Charleston on Monday, Mr. Obama pursued a dual strategy on the stump: He criticized Mr. McCain, whose campaign was happy to engage in a daylong exchange of e-mail messages with the Obama team, and sought to dampen expectations by predicting a loss to Mrs. Clinton in the state’s primary on Tuesday.

“I think there is no doubt that Senator Clinton is favored to win,” he said at the news conference in South Charleston, where a local television reporter asked him about voters who may think he is “un-American.”

“Hopefully they’ll watch your program tonight,” he said. “They’ll know that I’m a practicing Christian. They’ll know that my grandfather fought in World War II and I was raised to love America.”

Jim Rutenberg contributed reporting from South Charleston, W.Va., and Katharine Q. Seelye from Logan, W.Va.

This article, Clinton running hard in campaign's last laps, first appeared in Monday editions of .