Hillary Clinton on Wednesday promised to take her dispute over the unseated delegates from Florida and Michigan to the Democratic convention in August if necessary in her most overt threat so far to stay in the race.
By Edward Luce in Tampa, Florida and Andrew Ward in Washington
”Yes I will, yes I will because I feel very strongly about this,” she told Associated Press in an intervew.
Mrs Clinton’s last-ditch attempt to persuade the Democratic Party to reinstate the debarred delegates coincided with a campaign visit to Florida, the largest general election swing state, where she as well as Barack Obama and John McCain, the Republican nominee, converged on Wednesday.
Mr Obama, who declared he was on the “threshold” of the Democratic nomination after crossing the majority of pledged delegates in the latest primary votes in Kentucky and Oregon on Tuesday, virtually ignored Mrs Clinton except to compliment her on having run a “formidable” campaign.
But Mrs Clinton, who would be unable to surpass Mr Obama’s delegate lead even if she persuaded the Democratic Party to seat the delegates from Michigan and Florida, campaigned as if there was still everything to play for in the dying days of the presidential race.
The former First Lady visited the symbolically important counties of Palm Beach, Dade and Broward – the three places where Democrats claimed they were disenfranchised by the Supreme Court ruling in 2000 that awarded Florida’s electoral college votes to George W. Bush and gave him the presidency.
“The Republicans are supposed to be the people who don’t count the votes in Florida, not the Democrats,” said Bill Clinton earlier in the week. In a speech on Wednesday, Mrs Clinton said: “The lesson of 2000 here in Florida is crystal clear: If any votes aren’t counted, the will of the people isn’t realized and our democracy is diminished.”
Mrs Clinton’s decision to campaign in Florida was widely seen as a final push to persuade the Democratic Party’s superdelegates, who will ultimately crown the nominee, that she was better able to defeat Mr McCain in the autumn.
It came little more than a week in advance of a key meeting of the Democratic National Committee that will hear Mrs Clinton’s arguments for awarding her the delegates from the two states. Supporters of Mr Obama, who removed his name from the Michigan ballot and who came a distant second to Mrs Clinton in Florida, will argue that the party “cannot move the goalposts”.
The two states broke the rules by holding their primary votes before the “Super Tuesday” vote in early February. After her thumping victory in the Kentucky primary on Tuesday night, Mrs Clinton told supporters: “The people of Kentucky have declared that the race isn’t over yet – and I’m listening to them and to you,” she said. Mr Obama won a strong victory in Oregon.
Meanwhile, a Reuters/Zogby poll on Wednesday robbed Mrs Clinton’s argument of some of its force by showing Mr Obama with an 8-percentage point lead over Mr McCain in a hypothetical general election, having been tied with the Republican in the same poll last month. An average of several recent polls shows Mr Obama leading Mr McCain by 48 per cent to 43 per cent.
The surveys indicate that Mr Obama has bounced back strongly fromseveral torrid weeks of controversy and gaffes, including the storm surrounding Jeremiah Wright, his former pastor. ’Obama has been very resilient,’ said John Zogby, the pollster. ’The race with McCain is going to be very competitive.’
Mr Obama also maintained a wide lead over Mr McCain in the latest campaign finance figures released this week, although the Republican fundraising machine showed signs of creaking back to life.
Hillary Clinton plunged deeper into debt last month as she struggled to keep her campaign afloat but insisted she would keep fighting for theDemocratic nomination until after the final primaries on June 3. Mr Obama entered May with more than $37m in campaign funds, compared with Mr McCain’s $22m, according to the latest disclosures. Mrs Clinton was $20m in debt.
Mr McCain had his best fundraising month to date, raising $18m, but his total was dwarfed by Mr Obama’s $31m, despite a slowdown in the latter’s fundraising. Mrs Clinton raised $21m but spent nearly $29m as she battled to stay in the race.