- The Washington Times - Monday, June 2, 2008

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton on Sunday grabbed what is expected to be her last primary victory by easily winning Puerto Rico, as Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign predicted that he will wrap up the Democratic presidential nomination after the final two state contests Tuesday.

The former first lady captured 68 percent of the vote, while 32 percent went for Mr. Obama, with all of the island’s precincts reporting. Mrs. Clinton gained 38 of the island’s delegates.

But in defeat, Mr. Obama gained 17 of Puerto Rico’s 55 pledged delegates, which would bring him within 47 delegates of the 2,118 needed for the nomination.

With 31 delegates combined at stake in Montana and South Dakota on Tuesday, Obama campaign leaders say they are confident that enough undeclared superdelegates - who are not bound by primary or caucus results and can support whomever they wish - are ready to throw their support to the senator from Illinois and deliver him the nomination.

“I think we’re going to have a nominee before the end of this week. I don’t think there’s any question,” former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat and a top Obama surrogate, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday.

“A large number of superdelegates were holding back, waiting until the last vote was counted, and then they’re going to step forward. I am quite confident that you’re going to see an overwhelming number of superdelegates declare this week.”

Mrs. Clinton’s slim chance of capturing the nomination was dealt an almost knockout blow Saturday, when Democratic Party leaders voted to restore Florida and Michigan’s disputed delegates but gave them only a half-vote each.

The senator from New York has virtually no chance of overcoming Mr. Obama’s delegate lead without the Florida and Michigan delegations receiving full votes. She won both states, but Democratic leaders initially disqualified the results because they were held in January, too early under party rules.

Mr. Obama has backed the delegate compromise, brokered by the Democratic Party’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, but the Clinton campaign has hinted that the candidate may appeal the Michigan delegate allocation all the way to the party’s August convention.

Mrs. Clinton argues that she has won more popular votes, which is true if Michigan and Florida are counted but several caucus states won by Mr. Obama, where the rules mean a popular vote is never tallied, are not. She cites those numbers as evidence that she would be a better candidate to challenge Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican nominee.

“In the final assessment I ask you to consider these questions. Which candidate best represents the will of the people who voted in this historic election?” Mrs. Clinton told supporters in Puerto Rico Sunday. “Which candidate is best able to lead us to victory in November?”

But popular votes don’t determine the party’s nominee, who is selected by delegates at the convention.

Mrs. Clinton campaigned throughout Puerto Rico over the weekend, while Mr. Obama instead spent the past few days in South Dakota and Montana preparing for the states’ contests Tuesday, when the primary season comes to a close.

Mr. Obama spoke about Mrs. Clinton as if the race were decided and he was congratulating a defeated opponent.

“First of all, Senator Clinton is an outstanding public servant, she has worked tirelessly during this campaign … and she is going to be a great asset when we go into November,” he said while campaigning in South Dakota Sunday. “Whatever differences Senator Clinton and I may have, those differences pale in comparison to the other side.”

Mrs. Clinton left Puerto Rico shortly after the polls closed Sunday afternoon and traveled to Rapid City, S.D., where she plans three campaign stops in the state Monday. But in an unusual move, she is expected to depart Monday and return to her home near New York City.

She had been expected to campaign Tuesday in either South Dakota or Montana, but polls show her trailing Mr. Obama by double digits in both states.

Mrs. Clinton has no campaign events scheduled for Tuesday, when she is likely to head to Washington to spend the night.