Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is running out of primaries, delegates and money in her last-ditch effort to overtake Sen. Barack Obama, who is tantalizingly close to clinching the Democratic nomination in June when party leaders say the marathon race will effectively end.
Having vowed repeatedly that she will stay in the race until the last primary ballot and available delegate has been counted, the New York senator will probably remain a candidate through the final five primaries — Kentucky, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Montana and South Dakota.
But then, if Mr. Obama's nearly 200-delegate lead holds, Mrs. Clinton must face the end of her campaign for the White House and concede the race to the freshman senator from Illinois, even if all of the delegates are still not apportioned, a top Democratic party strategist and Clinton supporter said yesterday.
"If we get to June, and Obama is ahead by a couple of hundred votes and the superdelegates are clearly moving in his direction, Hillary Clinton is going to have to face a very important decision at that point about whether she can concede the race with a degree of dignity and honor and in the end say he's the winner," said Leon Panetta, former chief of staff in the Clinton White House.
"That would help unify the party and avoid the nasty divisions that would hurt the party going into the November election," Mr. Panetta told The Washington Times.
June 3 is not only the end of the party's primaries and caucuses — it is also the deadline Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean set for the nominating race to end, hoping to avoid a divided convention in August. "We want the voters to have their say. That's over on June 3," he said.
Heading into last night's primary in West Virginia, Mr. Obama had a total of 1,874 delegates to Mrs. Clinton's 1,698, according to the latest Real Clear Politics Web site tabulation. The number needed to win the nomination is 2,025.
Party insiders said privately yesterday that they expect Mr. Obama to sustain his lead as the remaining contests were decided and the delegates divided among them in proportion to their vote totals.
Mr. Obama was leading Mrs. Clinton by 55 percent to 35 percent in Oregon, but she held a 58 percent to 31 percent lead in Kentucky and was ahead by 13 points in Puerto Rico, according to recent polls.
Mrs. Clinton was hoping an agreement on Michigan and Florida, whose delegates were stripped by the DNC for violating party primary rules, would help her close the gap with Mr. Obama. But a DNC official told the Times that the likely compromise on seating their delegations would not "affect the dynamics" of the race or endanger Mr. Obama's delegate lead.
In the meanwhile, national party preference polls show Mr. Obama lengthening his lead ahead of Mrs. Clinton. Gallup's daily tracking poll of Democratic voters reported yesterday that he led by 50 percent to 44 percent, while an ABC News/Washington Post poll showed him ahead by 53 percent to 41 percent.
"This week, we are starting to see the public in the early stages of seeing Obama now as the Democratic nominee, and his numbers are rising across the board," Simon Rosenberg, president of the New Democrat Network, wrote in NDN's blog yesterday.