Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton is like a boxer in the final rounds of a title bout, with fans cheering her as a relentless fighter and critics calling her a spoiler who should throw in the towel.
At rallies attended mostly by women, particularly older ones still riled by discrimination they faced early in life, Clinton is cheered as a hero for her White House bid, even if her chances now look slim to nonexistent.
"Maybe she won't become the first woman president, but she's helped clear the way for others," said Becky Bird, an administrator with the Montana courts. "She's showed woman can compete at this level."
"It's almost magical, mythological," said Julie Volimas of Rapid City, who is studying for a master's degree in psychology. "She fulfills a dream for so many of us."
With crowds chanting, "Hillary, Hillary," Clinton has campaigned this week in Montana and South Dakota ahead of nominating contests next Tuesday that will end five months of voting for the Democratic presidential nomination -- and perhaps her White House bid.
Front-runner Barack Obama, who has a commanding lead in the number of delegates who pick the candidate at the Democrats' convention in August, is attracting bigger crowds and looking ahead to a likely November general election matchup with Republican John McCain.
In refusing to concede defeat, the New York senator and former first lady has riled some Democrats, who worry she has pushed on for too long and is dividing the party.
At a rally in Puerto Rico on Monday, amid a sea of pro-Clinton signs, a man held up one that read: "Quit."
But her fans like the fighting spirit.
"I admire the fact that even though she may or may not win ... she won't give up," said Carol Gibson, a retired school teacher and former Montana legislator.
'Don't walk off the court until the game is over'
After a rally in Rapid City on Wednesday, Clinton said she had received many such comments.
"I feel good," Clinton told reporters on her campaign plane. "One woman grabbed my hand and said, 'I'm a basketball coach. You don't walk off the court until the game is over."'
In her campaign stops, Clinton pounds President George W. Bush as a failed leader and McCain, who she says would continue Bush's failed economic and foreign policies.
Without mentioning Obama by name, she seems to mock him, suggesting that the charismatic, first-term U.S. senator from Illinois is a gifted orator but short on experience and ideas.
Clinton, 60, who would be the first woman president, has been a member of the Senate since 2001 and spent eight years in the White House as wife and adviser to President Bill Clinton.
"She's smart. She's substantive," said Kim Christopher, a Rapid City businessman. "I hope if Obama is the nominee, he asks her to be his running mate and she accepts."
Clinton began the race for the Democratic nomination a year ago as the prohibitive favorite.
But she was a Washington insider and Obama took the lead as an outsider promising broad change. Clinton was also hurt by the fact that she has been a polarizing figure since she and her husband came to Washington in January 1993.
"People don't like her because she's a woman. Period. And that's ridiculous because there are women in power around the world," said Jolaine Tracy, a former South Dakota teacher.
Jim Saunders showed up at a Rapid City rally on Wednesday wearing blue jeans, a leather jacket and a cowboy hat with a "Hillary" campaign button pinned to it. He scoffed at the idea that men are intimidated by Clinton.
"My wife is smart. Hillary is smart. Neither intimidates me," Saunders said. "Heck, my wife runs our house."