Hillary Clinton was on Monday night considering the timing and terms of her withdrawal from the Democratic presidential race as Barack Obama stood on the brink of clinching the party’s presidential nomination.
By Andrew Ward, Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Daniel Dombey
Mr Obama hoped to win the support of enough “super-delegates” – Democratic party leaders and elected officials – to declare the race over on Tuesday after the final primaries in Montana and South Dakota.
He planned to hold a victory rally in St Paul, Minnesota – venue of the Republican national convention in September – to symbolise the start of his general election campaign against John McCain, the Republican candidate.
Even if Mr Obama falls short on Tuesday, he appears almost certain to cross the finish line before the end of the week as the Democratic establishment starts to rally behind its presumptive nominee.
He was on Monday just 44 delegates away from the 2,118 delegates needed to win nomination, with Mrs Clinton about 150 delegates behind.
The Clinton campaign denied speculation that Mrs Clinton would concede defeat on Tuesday at a rally to mark the end of the primaries in her home state of New York. But she was expected to consult with top advisers and donors on Tuesday about when and how to announce her exit.
The clearest signal that the race is over came from former president Bill Clinton, who told voters in Millbank, South Dakota on Monday, that, “this may be the last day I’m ever involved in a campaign of this kind”.
Senior Clinton supporters also conceded in public for the first time that defeat was near. “It does appear to be pretty clear that Senator Obama is going to be the nominee,” said Tom Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa and Clinton backer. “After Tuesday’s contests, she needs to acknowledge that he’s going to be the nominee and quickly get behind him.”
Campaigning in South Dakota on Monday, Mr Obama said he was confident that he and Mrs Clinton would be “working together in November”, signalling his confidence about the party’s ability to reunite after its bitter nomination process.
Mr Obama is expected to end the primaries on a triumphant note with polls showing him ahead in both Montana and South Dakota. Tuesday’s contests come exactly five months after victory in the Iowa caucuses set him on course for the nomination.
Some Clinton advisers hinted at the weekend she might keep fighting until the Democratic convention in August by challenging the party’s decision to reinstate only half the voting rights of Michigan and Florida, where she won disputed primaries. That threat appeared to recede when she struck a largely conciliatory tone in her victory speech after Sunday’s Puerto Rico primary.
Mr McCain provided a taste of the general election battle to come on Monday when he intensified his attack on Mr Obama’s backing for high level talks with Iran, calling instead for sanctions to be imposed on Tehran outside the framework of the United Nations.
In a speech to the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference in Washington, Mr McCain gave his most extensive account yet of his policy on Iran – likely to be one of the main challenges facing the next US President and already one of the chief focuses of the campaign – and stepped up his criticism of his likely Democratic opponent.
Mr Obama has called for a summit with Iran’s leadership but has recently talked down suggestions that he would meet with Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad.