WASHINGTON – On the eve of the last two Democratic primaries, aides for New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared Monday to be making plans to scale down her campaign, giving her time to decide in the coming days whether to end it or to stage a comeback.
While Illinois Sen. Barack Obama plans to spend election night in St. Paul, Minn., where Republicans will hold their convention, Clinton intends to return home to New York. Her campaign has scheduled no events beyond a speech Wednesday in Washington. Clinton aides considered and rejected a plan to have her campaign later this week in states that will be important in the general election.
She isn’t withdrawing, a Clinton aide said, “but we’re slowing down this process.”
With voters in South Dakota and Montana set to end the five-month primary season today, Clinton campaigned as if it were any other day, but her husband telegraphed that the race might be wrapping up.
“This may be the last day I’m ever involved in a campaign of this kind,” said former President Clinton in Milbank, S.D. “I thought I was out of politics, till Hillary decided to run. But it has been one of the greatest honors of my life to go around and campaign for her for president.”
Clinton and Obama both picked up superdelegates Monday. Obama was 41.5 delegates shy of the 2,118 needed to clinch the Democrats’ nomination, while Clinton was 200.5 away, according to the Associated Press tally.
In a significant gain for Obama, Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., an influential voice in the black community, told the Associated Press that he would endorse the Illinois senator.
Although the Clinton campaign seemed poised to enter a more subdued phase, it did not seem on the verge of going out of business. During a conference call with top donors Monday, campaign officials Harold Ickes, Jonathan Mantz and others appealed to them to stick with her.
During the call, Clinton officials said the nomination was not beyond her reach.
Superdelegates are free to change their minds and switch allegiance, officials said, a hint that Clinton might stay in the race. Shutting down the campaign now is impractical, said a Clinton aide. For one thing, Texas Democrats are meeting Friday and Saturday to allocate 67 delegates. With about 1,500 Clinton supporters due to attend, it would be a disservice to them for Clinton to drop her candidacy now, he said.
“There is a lot of indebtedness to people like that – to fundraisers and unions,” the aide said.
After the elections today, Clinton will spend a few days reviewing her options and talking to superdelegates, supporters and donors, said aides.
At a rally in a high school in rural Yankton, S.D., on Monday, Clinton talked about entering “a new phase in the campaign” and said she would try to coax superdelegates to her side.
“I will be spending the coming days making my case to those delegates,” she said.
Clinton argued that she has won “the swing states and the swing voters that Democrats must win to take back the White House.” And she pointed to polls that show her beating the presumptive Republican nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain.
Clinton officials conceded in the conference call that she faced steep odds. But one donor who took part said a victory was still achievable. One scenario hinges on Clinton mounting an appeal of a Democratic Party rules committee decision that stripped her of four delegates in Michigan. If she prevails, the donor said, that might persuade some superdelegates to change their minds and support her.
Yet some political analysts believe the contest is over and that Clinton needs to accept the verdict.
“For all intents and purposes everyone – except her campaign – realized it was over the day of the North Carolina primary. It’s just been pro forma since then,” said John Anzalone, a Democratic strategist who is neutral in the race.
“At this point, if she keeps fighting, it’s not really the damage she does to Obama, it’s the damage she does to herself. I think the Clintons are smart enough people to realize that if she’s going to have a future, it’s going to be one of helping Obama get elected, not being some kind of spoiler or poor sport.”
Obama hopes to clinch the nomination Wednesday.
“You know, I think there are a lot of superdelegates who are waiting for the last couple of contests, but I think that they’re going to be making decisions fairly quickly after that,” Obama told reporters in Waterford, Mich. “My sense is between Tuesday and Wednesday we have a good chance of getting the number that we need to achieve the nomination.”