Clinton team slows down to strategize

Times Staff Writer

On the eve of the last two Democratic primaries, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s aides appeared Monday to be making plans to scale down her campaign, giving the New York senator time to decide in the coming days whether to end it or try to stage a comeback.

Barack Obama plans to spend election night in St. Paul, Minn., where Republicans will hold their convention, but Clinton intends to return home to New York. Her campaign has scheduled no events beyond a speech Wednesday morning 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, 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,” former President Clinton said 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.”

Obama, campaigning in Michigan, a state both parties will contest in the fall, said he talked to Sen. Clinton on Sunday “and told her that once the dust settled, I was looking forward to meeting with her at a time and place of her choosing.”

Clinton and Obama both picked up superdelegates Monday. Obama was 41.5 delegates shy of the 2,118 needed to clinch the nomination, and Clinton was 200.5 away, according to the Associated Press tally.

In a significant gain for Obama, Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, an influential African American voice, told the Associated Press that he would soon endorse the Illinois senator, who seeks to be the nation’s first black president.

Though the Clinton campaign seemed poised to enter a more subdued phase, it did not seem on the verge of going out of business. In a conference call with top donors Monday, campaign officials Harold M. Ickes, Jonathan Mantz and others appealed to them to stick with her.

They said she wasn’t “going to take forever to make a decision” on whether to quit the race, according to a Clinton fundraiser who took part in the call. Like others interviewed, he spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for the campaign.

In the call, the Clinton officials said that the nomination was not beyond her reach.

Superdelegates are free to change their minds and switch allegiance, they noted -- a hint that Clinton may decide to stay in the race and try to pry superdelegates away from Obama even if he claims enough delegates for victory.

Shutting down the campaign now is impractical in any case, said the Clinton aide. For one thing, Texas Democrats are meeting Friday and Saturday to divide up 67 delegates between Clinton and Obama. With as many as 1,500 Clinton supporters due to attend, it would be a disservice to them for Clinton to drop her candidacy now, he said, noting: “There is a lot of indebtedness to people like that -- to fundraisers and unions.”

After the elections Tuesday, Clinton aides and supporters said, she will spend a few days reviewing her options and talking to superdelegates, supporters and donors.

At a rally Monday at a high school in Yankton, S.D., 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 had 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 presumptive Republican nominee John McCain.

“We have a very strong case to make that I am the best-positioned to take back the White House and put this country on the right track,” Clinton said.

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 convince some superdelegates to change their minds and support Clinton.

Yet some political analysts believe that 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 is hoping to clinch the nomination within a day.

“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.”

Bob Mulholland, a California superdelegate and Democratic National Committee member, said the Obama campaign contacted him last week with a new pitch. “The message was ‘Wouldn’t you like to be one of the last’ ” superdelegates to put Obama over the top? he said.


Times staff writers Mark Z. Barabak, Noam N. Levey, Scott Martelle and Michael Finnegan contributed to this report.