/ 30 March 2008

Clinton rejects calls to quit

Hillary Clinton vowed on Saturday night to continue her battle for the party’s presidential nomination amid increasing pressure from senior Democrats for her to quit the race. Speaking to a cheering crowd at an Indianapolis high school, she said it was important to give everyone a chance to have their voices heard. ”There are some folks saying we ought to stop these elections. I didn’t think we believed that in America,” she said.

Her husband and former President Bill Clinton echoed her stance at a separate rally, saying it would be unfair to deprive Democratic voters in states such as Pennsylvania of the opportunity to vote for the candidate of their choice.

Their united front emerged after a raft of senior party figures last week dropped heavy hints that they are worried the fight between Clinton and her rival, Barack Obama, could cripple the Democrats’ chances of winning the White House in November.

However, at campaign rallies and in press interviews, Clinton has betrayed no weakness in her stated aim of carrying on the fight through the summer and right up to Denver. She has told crowds she has no intention of quitting and can still win the nomination. In an email to her supporters last week, she insisted: ”We are in a position to win.”

The prospect of a continuing battle has many leading Democrats deeply worried. They are concerned that the Republican nominee, John McCain, is already airing TV ads and touring the country to boost his cause, while the Democrats seem set to fight more primaries through April, May and into June. The increasingly bitter and brutally aggressive tone of the race has also raised the prospect that the winner will emerge as a deeply wounded candidate trying to lead a divided party.

Howard Dean, head of the powerful Democratic National Committee, did a round of press interviews last week at which he specifically said he wanted the process wrapped up when the last primary ends at the beginning of June. That seemed a hint Clinton should leave the race then, as Obama’s current lead is large enough to make it almost impossible for her to overtake him in the remaining contests.

Other top party figures have also dropped hints. Nancy Pelosi, the Democrats’ House speaker, again urged the party to unite sooner rather than later in a speech on Friday night. ”We must unite after this primary is over and I hope that is before too long,” she told a crowd in California. Such comments could be seen as a direct attack on Clinton’s strategy of prolonging the race until Denver then winning the nomination by persuading the party’s ”superdelegates” to back her and overturn the popular vote.

In a newspaper column, Mario Cuomo, a former New York governor and one-time party favourite, warned: ”The 2008 primary may be the story of a painfully botched grand opportunity.”

Obama supporters have been more strident. His campaign scored a major coup last week by gaining the endorsement of Vermont senator Patrick Leahy, who called for Clinton to get out of the race for the good of the party. ”Senator Clinton has every right, but not a very good reason, to remain a candidate for as long as she wants to,” he said.

Clinton has to rely primarily on a strategy to damage Obama enough to coax superdelegates — party insiders and elected officials who will hold the balance of power at Denver — to her side. Her argument is based on her winning large states such as New York, California and Ohio, which will be key in November. She points to her large lead in Pennsylvania, the only large state left to vote and which will be a vital battleground in the fight against McCain. Meanwhile, Obama’s supporters say he will win the popular vote and lead in delegates going into Denver, and that party insiders should not overturn that decision. Obama is also ahead in national polls of Democrats; the latest Gallup poll showed him leading Clinton by 50 points to 42.

However, Clinton’s aides are publicly hopeful that her tactics may pay off and that Obama remains dangerously untested as a candidate. They are putting pressure on remaining superdelegates to hold their fire. So far superdelegates such as Al Gore, former president Jimmy Carter and John Edwards remain on the sidelines. It seems likely that only a significant reverse at the remaining polls could persuade her campaign’s senior staffers that she should quit the race. – guardian.co.uk Â