- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 30, 2008

From combined dispatches

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential front-runner, yesterday rejected calls for his rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, to drop out of the Democratic nomination race as he campaigned in Pennsylvania.

“My attitude is that Senator Clinton can run as long as she wants,” said Mr. Obama, who has a lead in the delegate count over Mrs. Clinton.

“Her name’s on the ballot, and she is a fierce and formidable competitor, and she obviously believes that she would make the best nominee and the best president,” the Illinois senator said ahead of the next nominating clash in this delegate-rich state on April 22. “She should be able to compete, and her supporters should be able to support her for as long as they are willing or able.”

Mrs. Clinton told a rally in Indianapolis yesterday that she had no intention of giving up before the nominating contests were over.

“I thought we [Americans], of all people, knew how important it was to give everyone a chance, to have their voices heard and their votes counted, and we’re going to give Indiana that chance” in its May 6 primary, she said. “Because, you see, I have this old-fashioned idea that the more people get a chance to vote, the better it is for our democracy.”

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and an Obama supporter, on Friday made the most explicit call yet from a party luminary for Mrs. Clinton to drop out of the race, saying she could not overcome Mr. Obama’s lead.

And Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean last week warned both sides to unify soon to avoid a protracted fight to the August convention that could help hand November’s presidential election to Sen. John McCain, the expected Republican nominee.

Mr. Obama has only 131 more delegates than Mrs. Clinton, but the former first lady would need to crush her rival in the few remaining nominating contests, which is not likely, to overtake him. But neither Mrs. Clinton nor Mr. Obama likely will reach the 2,025 delegates needed to wrap up the nomination, which will put the matter in the hands of nearly 800 superdelegates — party officials and activists who can vote for whomever they want.

Former President Bill Clinton said Democrats needed to let the remaining states vote.

“We just need to relax and let this happen. Nobody’s talking about wrecking the party,” Mr. Clinton said while marching in a belated St. Patrick’s Day parade in Girardville, a tiny town in northeastern Pennsylvania’s coal region. “Everywhere I go, all these working people say, ‘Don’t you dare let her drop out. Don’t listen to those people in Washington. They don’t represent us.’ ”

Mr. Clinton told reporters along the parade route that Mr. Leahy doesn’t want Mrs. Clinton to compete in upcoming contests because “she might win.” Polls have shown Mrs. Clinton with a big lead over Mr. Obama in Pennsylvania.

“I think the idea that a state as important to the Democrats’ future as Pennsylvania, where Sen. McCain has always been popular and always runs well, the idea that the Democrats would not want the vote to occur here I think is crazy,” Mr. Clinton said.

Mr. Obama also downplayed fears that the bitter race could divide the Democratic Party.

“I think that the notion that the party’s been divided by this contest is somewhat overstated,” he said. “I think the party’s going to come together.”

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