Obama close to declaring outright victory, but Clinton's fight goes on

Amid warnings of civil war in her party, an indefatigable Hillary Clinton boarded her charter jet yesterday for back-to-back campaign appearances in no fewer than three primary states even as aides to her rival, Barack Obama, hinted quietly that he may choose to declare final victory within days.

While the US media have mostly pronounced the race for the Democratic presidential nomination effectively over, the Clinton camp is pursuing a two-pronged strategy to stay alive: challenging party rules and positing her superior electability. The candidate whose platform is called "Solutions for America" is now frantically seeking solutions for herself.

Mrs Clinton told USA Today she was more viable because of a broader base of support among working class whites. "There's a pattern emerging here," she said. "These are the people you have to win if you're a Democrat in sufficient numbers to actually win the election. Everybody knows that."

Her campaign is desperate to recover the psychological advantage which has swung heavily towards Mr Obama after his win in North Carolina on Tuesday and near-miss in Indiana. She is hoping for a mood-change again if she can win in West Virginia next Tuesday, which appears likely.

There seems little chance that she will abandon her quest before 31 May, when the Democrat Party's rules committee will convene to consider her campaign's appeal for delegates from Michigan and Florida to be seated at the nominating convention in August. Primary elections in both states were deemed void, because they moved their polling dates forward in violation of party rules.

But things may become ugly much sooner. An adviser to Mr Obama was anonymously quoted on the Politico.com website yesterday suggesting that he will declare himself the winner finally on 20 May after results come in late in the day from two states holding primaries, Kentucky and Oregon.

The calculation is that this will be the moment when he achieves a simple majority of pledged delegates amassed over the entire primary season. (Pledged delegates are assigned according to primary results in all states, in contrast to the superdelegates who are mostly party stalwarts.)

By challenging the Michigan-Florida decision, Mrs Clinton aims to scramble that equation. As of now, a total of 3,253 pledged delegates are on the table and Mr Obama expects to have cornered more than half by the night of 20 May. But if she can persuade the party to reinstate the 366 delegates from Michigan and Florida, the goalposts would suddenly be shifted.

It may help her that the rules committee is disproportionately stacked with people who have been her supporters. Even so, the chances that it will heed her appeals and reverse the party's position on the status of the two renegade states seem slim. Neither candidate campaigned in Florida or Michigan. In the latter, Mr Obama was not even on the ballot.

Party elders will also worry that changing the rules of the game now would trigger civil war in the party if it ended up denying Mr Obama a victory he would seem to have won fairly. A first warning shot against Mrs Clinton was fired by former president Jimmy Carter who said on the Jay Leno show that the states had "disqualified themselves". Forgiving them now, "would be a catastrophe for the party," he said.

An Obama spokesman, Bill Burton, called Mrs Clinton's claims on broader white support "not true and frankly disappointing".

For rolling comment on the US election visit: independent.co.uk/campaign08

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