After a weekend of campaign adversity, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and her husband separately prodded Democratic Party leaders on Monday to look beyond mere delegate strength in picking a presidential nominee at this summer's national convention.
"I don't know that it will be an easy decision, but that's what leaders sign up for," said the former president, declaring that his wife's ability to win a general election should be considered.
The former first lady, who trails rival Sen. Barack Obama in the delegate chase, concurred. "I think it's a question about everything and I think people are going to have to take everything into account," she told reporters.
Made in different settings, the remarks underscore the debate roiling the Democratic Party as the primary season nears an apparently inconclusive end — while Republicans have begun to close ranks around Sen. John McCain for the fall campaign.
They also ran contrary to sentiments expressed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over the weekend. "If the votes of the superdelegates overturn what's happened in the elections, it would be harmful to the Democratic Party," she said in an interview.
Compounding Clinton's delegate woes, Obama padded his advantage over the weekend at county conventions in Iowa, the state whose precinct caucuses kicked off the presidential race.
Obama gained nine more delegates in the state on Saturday, largely by picking up the backing of supporters of John Edwards, who has dropped out of the race. In addition, Clinton lost one Iowa delegate.
Obama leads Clinton, 1,617-1,498, in The Associated Press' count. That advantage masks a larger lead among pledged delegates, which are won in primaries and caucuses. Obama leads Clinton by 155 pledged delegates, 1,404-1,249, while she leads 249-213 among superdelegates, a margin of 36.
[The Associated Press and NBC news conduct separate delegate counts. NBC's national delegate count currently stands at 1,625 for Obama and 1,504 for Clinton.]
A total of 2,024 delegates is required to win the nomination. It has long been clear that neither Obama nor Clinton would be able to reach that level through primaries and caucuses alone, leaving the convention's 800 or so superdelegates with the balance of power.
But former President Clinton went one step beyond that when he suggested his wife may wind up trailing among delegates picked by voters.
"If Senator Obama wins the popular vote, then the choice (at the convention) would be easier," he said on ABC's "Good Morning America." "But if Hillary wins the popular vote but can't quite catch up in the delegate vote, then you have to just ask yourself which is more important and who's more likely to win in November."
Hillary Clinton had intended to make the Iraq War her campaign topic of the day, pegged to this week's five-year anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
But that was before the economy intervened, in the form of extraordinary overnight action by the Federal Reserve to reassure jittery financial markets.
At a news conference, Clinton declined to expressly support or oppose the actions, saying, "I'm not going to second guess the Fed."
The Federal Reserve helped assure the sale of the troubled bank, Bear Stearns, to JP Morgan Chase, and assumed the risk for some of the riskier mortgage loans that were part of the deal. The Fed also lowered a key interest rate.
In her speech on the war, Clinton criticized President Bush and Sen. John McCain, the certain Republican nominee, as well as Obama.
"I have concrete, detailed plans to end this war, and I have not waivered in my commitment to follow through on them. One choice in this election is Senator McCain. He's willing to keep this war going for 100 years. You can count on him to do that.
"Another choice is Senator Obama who has promised to bring combat troops out in 16 months, but according to his foreign policy adviser, you can't count on him to do that.
In uncertain times, we cannot afford uncertain leadership," she said.
Campaigning in Pennsylvania, Obama responded quickly.
"... The truth is, the judgment of Hillary Clinton and John McCain gave President Bush a blank check for war. ... Because of that vote, we have fought a war that has cost us thousands of lives and will cost us a trillion dollars," he said.
McCain was overseas on a trip that included a stop in Iraq, and his campaign issued a statement accusing Clinton of misrepresenting his position. "The differences between Senator McCain's position, that we must win this war, and Senator Clinton's position, withdrawal and de facto surrender on Day One, are important enough to have an honest debate over," said Jill Hazelbaker, communications director.