Hillary Clinton vows to continue battle

WASHINGTON — Her money drained and her options dwindling, a resolute Hillary Rodham Clinton vowed Wednesday to press on with her presidential bid even as she and top advisers were hard-pressed to describe a realistic path for her to wrest the nomination from Barack Obama.

After a wrenching primary outcome Tuesday in which she was routed in North Carolina and barely won Indiana, Clinton made a hastily scheduled trip to West Virginia to show her determination to fight on. The state holds a primary Tuesday.

“I’m so happy to be here in West Virginia and excited about the next week as we campaign here in this beautiful state about our country’s future,” Clinton told an audience at Shepherd University.

She planned to return to the state today, then fly to South Dakota and Oregon, which also have upcoming contests.

Aides disclosed Wednesday that Clinton had lent her campaign $6.4 million since mid-April.

Spokesman Howard Wolfson said the New York senator made the investmet to keep pace with Obama, who has shattered all fundraising records and vastly outspent her in recent contests. The loan also reinforced her belief that the campaign must continue, Wolfson said, suggesting she would be willing to spend more of her own wealth if necessary.

“This is a sign of her commitment to this race, her commitment to this process and her commitment to ensure the voices of her supporters are heard,” Wolfson said.

Nonetheless, Tuesday’s results drastically reshaped the dynamic of the campaign, positioning Obama as the all-but-certain nominee and casting Clinton as a dogged but deluded also-ran. At least one prominent Democrat, Clinton supporter and former South Dakota Sen. George McGovern, called on Clinton to quit the race. Others held back, allowing her to assess the landscape and draw her own conclusion about how to proceed.

But at a news conference in West Virginia, the former first lady showed no sign of going anywhere. “I’m staying in this race until there’s a nominee,” she declared.

Clinton barely mentioned Obama but insisted, as she has throughout the race, that she would be the stronger candidate against Republican John McCain. While Obama has run strongest among blacks, college educated and younger voters and has produced record turnout among all three groups, Clinton pointed to her own strength among Hispanics and white, working-class voters, especially women. She noted they are the swing voters Democrats need to win a general election.

“What we have not been able to count on in the last elections are the voters that I’m getting,” she said.

Wolfson and chief strategist Geoff Garin echoed that argument in a conference call with reporters. They also described a scenario they said would keep her candidacy alive, including resolving disputed primaries in Florida and Michigan. Clinton won both contests but the results were voided because their timing violated Democratic Party rules.

But Clinton’s team acknowledged that even if both states’ delegations were seated, she would still not close the gap with Obama, who leads Clinton by about 150 delegates. Also Wednesday, Clinton said she would be sending a letter to Obama and Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean expressing her view that seating the disputed Florida and Michigan delegations is a civil rights and voting rights issue.

Garin sought to put the best face on a bad turn of events, touting what he called a “come from behind” win in Indiana and saying the campaign had long expected her to lose North Carolina.

In fact, the campaign made an aggressive play in that state, nearly matching Obama in television ad spending in the closing days. Clinton also campaigned extensively in the state and her husband kept a separate, packed schedule of appearances — all to little avail.

Another sign of trouble came as a much-hoped for spike in Internet fundraising didn’t materialize after Tuesday’s results. After winning Pennsylvania decisively on April 22, the Clinton campaign said it raised about $10 million in 24 hours; aides Wednesday said they had seen a bump in online cash but nothing close to their post-Pennsylvania success.

Clinton brought in about $20 million total in April, aides said.

She attended a women’s fundraiser Wednesday night, expected to yield about $500,000. She has a Mother’s Day fundraiser scheduled with daughter Chelsea Clinton in New York on Saturday. She also signed a new fundraising e-mail to supporters.

“I know that we have a lot of steps to go. We have more elections that will take place,” Clinton told 1,500 women at Wednesday’s event in Washington. “We are being outspent, two to one, three to one, four to one, even five to one, but we have been able to battle back.”

Earlier, the candidate met with the candidate met with superdelegates on Capitol Hill in an effort to woo the undecided and keep her own supporters on board. Few had many words of encouragement.

New York Sen. Charles Schumer, an early and enthusiastic Clinton backer, was uncharacteristically quiet when asked whether she should soldier on.

“It’s her decision to make and I’ll accept what decision she makes,” Schumer said. “This is still a close race, and you know, the decisions that Hillary Clinton makes are the decisions that, as a supporter of hers, I will abide by.”

For his part, Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada refused to speculate on whether Clinton had any chance of winning the nomination.

“That’s not for me to judge,” Reid said.

Said Clinton supporter Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.: “I think we’re at a point where I would like to know what the strategy is, how it becomes doable, and that’s all I’ve been trying to say to people.”

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