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Refusing to slow, Clinton pushes on

The candidate and her supporters remain energetic and hopeful for an upset that could sway superdelegates.

May 10, 2008|Bob Drogin | Times Staff Writer

PORTLAND, ORE. — With deep concern etched on her face, Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton listened intently Friday morning as Jordan Kokich, a willowy 22-year-old cancer survivor, described her heart-rending history of debilitating health problems.

"Jordan beat all the odds, time and time again," Clinton told a few dozen doctors and patients gathered in an outdoor courtyard of Doernbecher Children's Hospital when it was her turn to speak.

Whether Clinton can beat her own mounting political odds is less clear. Although she has refused to cede the nomination to rival Barack Obama, her presidential campaign is short of cash, lagging in delegates and seemingly doomed to also-ran status after more than 500 days of hard stumping for votes.

But if the campaign is running on fumes, the New York senator showed no sign of relaxing her pace or easing her criticism of Obama. She slammed the Illinois senator for proposing what she described as a less-than-comprehensive healthcare plan if he is elected.

"How can anyone run for the Democratic nomination and not have a universal healthcare plan?" Clinton asked. "This is a huge difference."

Obama, who has said the differences between their healthcare plans are minor, also campaigned here Friday in advance of Oregon's May 20 primary, one of six that remain through June 3. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumed Republican nominee, was scheduled to fly in Monday for a fundraiser.

At other campaign events during a two-day cross-country marathon, Clinton kept her smile set on full power, seeming to draw strength from the small but enthusiastic crowds who met her.

"I'm going to keep going because you're keeping me going," she promised late Thursday in a not-quite-full arena, which usually holds livestock auctions and boxing matches, in the Jackson County Fairgrounds in Central Point in southern Oregon.

The often-tardy candidate had shown up late, keeping the crowd waiting for more than an hour. She had departed Washington, D.C., behind schedule early that morning and never managed to catch up during a grueling 22-hour day of rallies and fundraisers in West Virginia, South Dakota and finally Oregon.

"We were flying against the wind," Clinton explained, turning it into a metaphor that could well describe her beleaguered campaign's game plan. "But that's the story of my life. Fly against the wind, and you'll get there eventually."

Not everyone was convinced. Even some of her supporters question how she can secure the nomination given that she is behind in the popular vote and in pledged delegates, and faces a fast-dwindling array of options.

"I think she should drop out," said Sam Buckholz, 67, a retired electrician who nonetheless had driven 30 miles to see Clinton at the fairgrounds. "We've got to get our act together. A lot of people are starting to sway over to McCain because they're tired of this fight."

Katie Alley, 24, an advertising executive, also worried about whether Clinton was hurting the party's chances. "I don't think this battling back and forth between Democrats is going to help us get into the White House," she said.

Others urged Clinton forward, praising her record, her policy proposals and her fortitude. Michelle Brannon, 24, an airport worker, cited Clinton's fighting spirit, even if Brannon couldn't see how the candidate could overcome the odds.

"Well, you never know unless you try," Brannon mused. "It's not over until it's over."

Clinton has retained hard-core supporters who plan to go door to door, work phone banks, and otherwise give their all for the woman who has broken the glass ceiling in presidential politics.

At a minimum, many at the rally insisted, Clinton and Obama should join forces on the fall ticket.

"I'm saying, 'Don't step out,' " said Amelia Bruno, 54, a ranger at Crater Lake National Park, about 80 miles away. "I think it should go to the convention."

John Schmidt, 65, a retired building contractor, agreed.

"I know she still has a chance," he argued. "She should keep fighting."

Gov. Theodore R. Kulongoski, who has endorsed Clinton, introduced her to the mix of farmers, office workers, retirees and students who perched on metal bleachers.

Taking the stage, Clinton taunted Obama for declining an offer to debate her before the primary.

"I heard my opponent will be in Portland tomorrow," she said in a mocking tone. "I'll be in Portland tomorrow. I'll meet him anywhere."

Polls show Obama is favored to win Oregon, with a reward of most of its 52 pledged delegates.

But the Clinton campaign hopes she can stage an upset that might give pause to uncommitted superdelegates, the elected officials and party leaders who will cast the final, deciding votes in the nomination battle.

Oregon offers early voting by mail, and campaign aides said that older voters and women usually dominate the early balloting, a dynamic that might work in Clinton's favor. Those who cast ballots at the polls tend to be younger, male and undecided voters.

"Those of you who already made up your mind to support me, send it in," Clinton urged, referring to the mail-in ballots. "If you think you made up your mind to support my opponent, wait a while. Keep thinking, keep waiting, and keep hoping for that debate."


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