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Now it’s a test of clout vs. cash

Times Staff Writers

With both candidates claiming the lead, Democrats dug in Wednesday for a prolonged nominating fight that will test Hillary Rodham Clinton’s establishment support against Barack Obama’s growing financial edge.

As Missouri tipped into Obama’s column, giving him 13 Super Tuesday states to eight for Clinton, campaign strategists spent the day crunching vote totals to determine their share of delegates to the party’s national nominating convention.

Their tallies differed -- each side asserting they were ahead -- but both camps agreed the numbers were exceedingly close, making for the most competitive Democratic race in at least 40 years.

Clinton revealed she lent her campaign $5 million to keep pace with Obama’s torrid fundraising. Separately, campaign insiders acknowledged that some staff members were working without pay, including campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle.

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Clinton and Obama ended last year on a near-even financial footing, but in January the Illinois senator raised $32 million compared with less than $14 million for Clinton. She said Tuesday’s results, including big wins in California and the Northeast, “proved the wisdom” of her personal investment.

With seven more contests over the next six days, Clinton promised no respite, despite a voice raw from overuse.

“It’s going to be a mad dash until Tuesday,” the New York senator told reporters at her campaign headquarters outside Washington. “Not a lot of time to catch your breath. We are full speed ahead.”

In Chicago, Obama also claimed victory, asserting he not only won more states Tuesday but will beat Clinton in the delegate count once the final results are known days or weeks from now.

“I think the Clinton camp’s basic attitude was that the whole calendar was set up to deliver the knockout blow on Feb. 5,” Obama told reporters before flying to Washington for a day off the campaign trail. “We’ve got many more rounds to fight.”

He waved off Clinton’s proposal for a series of debates between now and March 4, when Texas and Ohio hold primaries. “I don’t think anybody is clamoring for more debates,” Obama said, noting there have been 18 so far. His priority, he said, was “to spend time with voters.”

The full Super Tuesday fallout was unclear.

Millions of ballots are still to be counted from the day’s 22 contests, including as many as 2 million in California. New Mexico remained too close to call, with Clinton ahead by just over 200 votes.

As of Wednesday night, Clinton had won 784 delegates to Obama’s 758, according to the Associated Press.

Overall, that gave Clinton a delegate lead of 1,045 to 960 for Obama, with 2,025 delegates needed to claim the Democratic nomination this summer in Denver. There are about 2,000 delegates still up for grabs.

Given the way the party divides its delegates -- on a proportional basis, rather than winner-take-all -- most analysts predict a long, grinding fight to the nomination.

“We’re in for a state-by-state, delegate-by-delegate slog to the finish and it’s likely to remain very close,” said Mark Mellman, a longtime Democratic pollster who is neutral in the primary.

The contest is not so much a split over issues or ideology, though the candidates have differences. Rather, it has turned into a competition between coalitions. For Clinton, it is women, Latinos, older voters and the economically hard-pressed. For Obama, it is men, African Americans, younger and more upscale voters.

Each would appear to enjoy advantages in upcoming contests. For Obama, it starts Saturday in Louisiana -- a state with a large black population -- and continues Tuesday in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, all of which combine big African American populations with pockets of affluent white voters.

For Clinton, the prospects look promising next month in Texas -- which is heavily Latino -- and Ohio, an industrial state that has struggled economically.

From now on virtually all the major contests are primaries -- not caucuses -- and Clinton has done better in primary states.

The candidates have other strengths.

Clinton, long the front-runner in the contest, leads Obama among “super delegates” -- the party leaders and elected officials whose status automatically gives them a vote at the convention. There are nearly 800 of them and these members of the party establishment could prove decisive if Clinton and Obama are still effectively tied at the end of the primary season in June.

“My guess is we’ll know the nominee before we get to the convention, almost certainly as a result of what the super delegates choose to do and how they choose to do it,’ Mellman said.

Obama enjoys a growing financial edge, thanks not just to the tens of millions of dollars he has raised -- he slightly trails Clinton in overall receipts -- but the way he has brought in his money.

Clinton has relied heavily on large donors, at least half of whom have already given the maximum allowed by law.

By contrast, Obama has built an extensive network of small givers who are free to keep donating until they hit the $2,300 federal contribution ceiling. One regular Obama donor is Sharon Pipino, 58, a massage therapist in Anchorage who has given more than $200 by chipping in $25 or $50 at a time.

“I want him to be president,” she said Wednesday. “I just decided I would give money every month.”

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mark.barabak@latimes.com

peter.nicholas@latimes.com

Times staff writers Janet Hook and Dan Morain contributed to this report.


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