Clinton rolls on as Democrats, media see writing on the wall

Hillary ClintonWashington  - Barack Obama insists that he doesn't want to get ahead of himself, but a growing number of prominent Democrats and newspaper editorials have suggested it may be time for rival candidate Hillary Clinton to make a graceful exit.

A litany of US media outlets reported Thursday that the "math" just wasn't there anymore for Clinton to capture the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, after she lost badly in North Carolina and barely won Indiana in the latest round of primary elections earlier this week.

Time magazine carried a picture of Obama on the cover with the headline "And the winner is. .."

The Economist magazine compared her to the cartoon character who "having galloped over a cliff, is still unaware of the fact and hangs suspended in the air, legs pumping wildly, until realization dawns, gravity intervenes and downfall ensues."

Obama himself was more careful, saying he was looking forward to a general election battle with the Republican Party's presumptive nominee John McCain, but didn't want to see his steady delegate lead over Clinton "jinxed" in the final month of the intra-party campaign.

The Illinois senator leads Clinton 1,850 to 1,696 in the delegate count, just 175 away from capturing the magic number of 2,025 delegates that would hand him the nomination after more than four months of state-by-state electoral contests.

"We haven't wrapped this thing up yet," Obama told CNN.

With only six contests left to go - with a combined 217 delegates at stake - and a dwindling number of 262 party elite known as super delegates still undeclared, Clinton and her campaign surrogates remained defiant Thursday.

The New York senator continued to make the argument that she had a "broader base" of voters than Obama and was better positioned to defeat McCain in November.

"She can still win this thing if you vote for her big enough," her husband and former president Bill Clinton said at a rally in West Virginia, which is expected to favour the former first lady when Democrats there vote Tuesday.

Primaries in Oregon and Kentucky are on May 20, followed by Puerto Rico on June 1.

Finally, on June 3, "Montana and South Dakota will have the last word," Hillary Clinton said at her own rally in the latter state, one of three she visited Thursday.

But Clinton is also continuing the battle on other fronts. She has insisted on seating the delegations from Michigan and Florida at the nominating convention in August in Denver.

The two states were stripped of their delegates for holding primaries earlier than party rules allowed. Only Clinton's name was on Michigan's January 15 ballot, and neither candidate campaigned ahead of Florida's vote on January 29.

Clinton's campaign has insisted that the two primary results, which went in her favour, be counted. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) will meet May 31 to decide how to include the two states in the process, but Clinton has not ruled out appealing the committee's ruling if it does not go in her favour.

"It would be a little strange to have a nominee chosen by 48 states," she said Tuesday at her Indiana victory rally.

Michigan Democrats offered a proposal Thursday to seat their delegates that "splits the difference" between what the two candidates wanted from the state.

DNC Chairman Howard Dean this week acknowledged that the compromise would probably not suit either candidate. "No one's ever happy with compromises," he said.

Democratic officials appear mixed on just how much longer the race should continue, with some calling for Clinton to exit and help Obama begin what could be a difficult task of patching the party back together in time for November.

"I think it's important for Democrats to get united to win the general election in November," said George McGovern, the Democrats' losing 1972 presidential candidate, who switched his support to Obama on Wednesday.

"I don't see how Senator Clinton could now prevail in winning the nomination," he told Fox News.

Dean and other party leaders have called for undecided super delegates to make up their minds soon after the last primary votes are cast on June 3. The top leadership appears happy to give Clinton the leeway to continue until then.

"Me, I like combat, you know? I think the best training for campaigning is campaigning," said House speaker and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

"The support in our country has grown for our Democratic message ... so this is all very healthy." (dpa)