ALBANY, ORE — . -- Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton each insisted Friday that the race for the Democratic presidential nomination wasn't over, even as Obama racked up at least nine more superdelegate commitments -- including another Clinton defector.
While Clinton contrasted their healthcare policies and Obama took aim at presumptive Republican nominee John McCain, media and supporters pressed the Illinois senator on whether he would ask Clinton to join his ticket and help retire her campaign debts.
"We do not have this nomination locked up," Obama said in Beaverton. "Until I am the nominee, I don't want to speculate on running mates."
Obama went on to praise his Senate colleague from New York as "an extraordinary candidate, and an extraordinary public servant. . . . She would be on anyone's short list of vice presidential candidates. But beyond that, I don't want to offer an opinion."
Later, at a taqueria in Woodburn, Obama dismissed as premature questions about whether he would help Clinton pay off campaign debts, but hinted that he might.
"We'll obviously want to have a broad-ranging discussion with Sen. Clinton about how I could make her feel good about the process and have her on the team moving forward," Obama said. "But, as I've said, it's premature right now. . . . Our working assumption right now is that we're still in the middle of a race."
Several media tallies gave Obama the lead for the first time among superdelegates, which had been the last meaningful category in which Clinton claimed success.
Clinton, who also began the day in Oregon, showed no signs of slowing her pace and resumed her criticism of Obama. She had softened her jabs at him after losing by 14 percentage points in North Carolina and winning narrowly in Indiana on Tuesday.
Clinton slammed Obama for proposing what she described as a less-than-comprehensive healthcare plan, though many analysts and Obama say there is little difference between their proposals.
"How can anyone run for the Democratic nomination and not have a universal healthcare plan?" Clinton said in Portland. "This is a huge difference." Clinton's last event of the night was in Louisville, Ky., before a Democratic group.
Though some Democrats worried that the protracted nomination race would push voters toward McCain, others are turning to Obama. As he picked up at least nine new superdelegates Friday, Clinton added one.
The flow of delegates to Obama led ABC News and the New York Times to declare Obama in the lead among superdelegates. The Associated Press, whose tally is used by the Los Angeles Times, still gave a slight edge to Clinton.
The new Obama endorsements include Rep. Donald M. Payne (D-N.J.), an African American early supporter of Clinton. He jumped ship this morning, telling the Newark Star-Ledger that he had backed Clinton when he thought Obama's campaign was "just a trial balloon."
Previously uncommitted superdelegates now backing Obama include two California members of the Democratic National Committee: Ed Espinoza of Long Beach and Vernon Watkins of Rancho Cucamonga.
Obama put his focus on McCain. "Sen. McCain is running for president to double-down on George Bush's failed policies," Obama told several dozen employees of Vernier Software & Technology in Beaverton, which makes classroom products for science teachers.
McCain campaigned on the East Coast, where he ignored Clinton to focus on the Illinois senator.
And signaling the tenor of what many see as the campaign to come, McCain, during a brief visit to the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, N.J., defended his recent assertion that the militant Palestinian group Hamas favored Obama.
The Arizona senator said it was "very obvious to everyone that Sen. Obama shares nothing of the values or goals of Hamas, which is a terrorist organization," and he contended that he "never implied anything else." But, he continued, "a spokesperson from Hamas said that he approves Sen. Obama's candidacy," which he says is of interest to voters.
"That is something that needs to be discussed -- why his policies should meet the approval of a spokesperson for Hamas," McCain said. "I believe it's a legitimate point of discussion."
McCain also announced his support for a Senate measure to limit greenhouse gases sponsored by two of his closest Senate colleagues, John W. Warner (R-Va.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). The America's Climate Security Act would reduce industrial greenhouse gas emissions to two-thirds of 2005 levels by mid-century.
Abcarian reported from Albany and Drogin from Portland. Scott Martelle in Orange County and Maeve Reston in Jersey City also contributed to this report.