Hillary Clinton faced calls on Friday to drop out of the presidential race as senior Democrats warned that her divisive battle with Barack Obama was harming the party’s chances of winning the White House in November.
By Andrew Ward in Washington
Patrick Leahy, the powerful Vermont senator, said it was almost impossible for Mrs Clinton to win the nomination and urged her to step aside and allow the party to unify around Mr Obama. “There is not a good reason for drawing this out,” he said.
Mr Leahy, who supports Mr Obama, said the Democrats were giving John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, a “free ride” by attacking each other rather than focusing on November’s election.
Mrs Clinton insisted that she planned to fight on despite trailing Mr Obama in the race for nominating delegates with almost no chance of closing the gap before the Democratic convention in August.
“Every time our campaign demonstrates its strength and resilience, people start to suggest we should end our pursuit… of the nomination,” she said in a fundraising email to supporters, referring to her recent primary victories in Texas and Ohio.
Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said the party should find a way to end the race by July to prevent a damaging showdown at the convention in Denver.
He said the Democratic party was at its strongest for 30 years but warned that the advantage could be squandered by an “ugly and nasty” convention. “We’re going to win [in November] unless we divide ourselves and that, we cannot do,” he added.
Recent opinion polls have indicated that more than 20 per cent of Clinton and Obama supporters would defect to Mr McCain in November if their favoured candidate failed to win the nomination.
Mr Dean urged the rival Democrats and their supporters to tone down the rhetoric against each other after weeks of increasingly bitter and racially charged exchanges. “You do not want to demoralise the base of the Democratic party by having the Democrats attack each other,” he said.
The comments came as Mr McCain launched his first television advertisement of the general election as he seeks to gain advantage from the comparatively early resolution to his party’s presidential race.
Mr Dean said undecided super-delegates – the nearly 800 senior Democrats whose votes look likely to settle the contest – should pick sides as soon as possible after the end of the primary elections in June.
Both candidates this week voiced confidence that they would bring the party together. “When this contest is over and we have a nominee, we’re going to close ranks, we’re going to be united,” said Mrs Clinton.
Bob Casey, the Pennsylvania senator, on Friday gave his endorsement to Mr Obama a month before the state’s Democratic primary but opinion polls continue to show Mrs Clinton in the lead. Mr Casey’s popularity among white, working-class Democrats could help Mr Obama make inroads into Mrs Clinton’s support base.