Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, helped buy Hillary Clinton some breathing space on Tuesday amid growing calls from senior supporters of Barack Obama for the former first lady to quit the Democratic party’s presidential race.
By Edward Luce in Washington
Mrs Pelosi, who is thought to sympathise with Mr Obama but who remains officially neutral, told ABC News that the primary race should “run its course”. The contest, which goes to Pennsylvania in three weeks – a contest Mrs Clinton needs to win by a significant margin – ends on June 3, when Montana and South Dakota hold nominating contests.
Mrs Pelosi also appeared to pull back from her earlier demand that the Democratic convention’s 796 unelected “super-delegates”, mainly party officials who will ultimately decide the contest, should simply ratify the popular vote.
Mrs Clinton, who got 20 of her most senior fundraisers to write in protest to Mrs Pelosi last week, is unlikely to overtake Mr Obama in either the popular vote or among pledged delegates by the end of the process.
She has vowed to take the contest right up to the convention in August if necessary – a scenario prompting panic among senior Democrats. On Tuesday she accused Mr Obama of wanting to “stop people from voting”.
Mrs Pelosi said: “These super-delegates have the right to vote their conscience and who they think would be the better president, or who can win [in the November election].”
But she added: “I do think it is important for us to get behind one candidate a long time before the Democratic national convention if we expect to win in November.”
Supporters of Mrs Clinton concede that she faces an uphill battle to overturn Mr Obama’s lead by June, even if she wins in Pennsylvania and other states where she is considered to have an edge.
A poll released on Tuesday by Rasmussen showed her lead in Pennsylvania narrowing to five points from 13 points last week. However, the Real Clear Politics average – a widely watched indicator – gives her a 16-point lead in the state. And opinion polls have proved a poor guide to results through most of the primary season.
Mrs Clinton, who joked on Tuesday that the campaign was “one of the longest things I have ever done – it’s longer than being pregnant”, is also continuing to press the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to restage votes in Michigan and Florida, whose delegates were barred because their polls leapfrogged other states in the primary calendar.
But most Democratic officials say that prospects for an expensive and logistically difficult fresh vote in the two states remain very slim. A growing number of senior Democrats are pushing for the super-delegates to decide the contest in June in order to give whoever becomes the nominee more time to compete against the Republican rival, John McCain.
They point out that the later a nominee is selected, the lower their chances in a general election. But they also concede that many victorious Democratic nominees, including Bill Clinton in 1992, did not capture the nomination until June.
“There is a growing consensus that we should finish the primary calendar and then settle the nomination before the end of June,” said a DNC member. “There is no cause to panic yet.”