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Clinton, Obama spar over long contest

world Updated: Apr 04, 2008 11:00 IST
Ellen Wulfhorst
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Depending on who is talking, Hillary Clinton should either drop out of the race for the US Democratic presidential nomination for the good of the party or fight on because all voters have a right to be heard.

The two arguments being made by supporters of Clinton and her Democratic rival Barack Obama speak to higher principles, inspire passion and make headlines, and both are pure politics with scant basis in fact, political experts say.

"Each one is making the best political argument for themselves and stating it in terms of some universal principles that don't exist," said Sandy Maisel, director of the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs at Maine's Colby College.

"Her side says, 'Every vote counts,' and his side says, 'It's over, why doesn't she admit it?'" Maisel said. "In fact, it isn't over, and there have been lots of cases in the past when every vote didn't count."

Plenty of elections are decided -- fairly -- before many voters had a chance to vote, and candidates can emerge victorious despite bruising primary battles, the experts say.

Besides, given the nature of politics, tables can quickly turn. Polls once showed Clinton with a powerful lead, but today she trails Obama in the quest for Democratic delegates.

"It's politics. Something crazy could happen tomorrow that changes the dynamic completely," said Kathleen Dolan, political scientist at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.

That rings particularly true for the Clinton-Obama matchup, said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. She has been scrutinized for years, but he is lesser known and his candidacy could take some twists and turns.

"Her point of view is that something else could come out about Obama," said Sabato.

But the New York senator faces a chorus of calls to drop out from Obama supporters who say she cannot win the nomination and she will harm his ability to beat Republican candidate John McCain in the November election. Obama, however, has said she should stay in the race as long as she wants.

Politically expedient

Obama leads Clinton in pledged delegates who will help choose the nominee, but neither is likely to win enough delegates in state contests to clinch the nomination. That is likely to leave the decision up to superdelegates -- elected officials and party insiders free to back any candidate.

Campaigning this week in Pennsylvania, Clinton pointed to a supporter's sign that read "Don't Quit."

"I thought that Democrats and Americans believed in letting people vote and then counting the votes," she said. "I'm going to do everything I can to make sure that from Pennsylvania to Puerto Rico, people have a chance to vote and be part of this process."

Pennsylvania holds the next primary on April 22, followed by contests in North Carolina, Indiana, West Virginia, Oregon, Kentucky, Montana, South Dakota and elsewhere, ending June 3.

"Most party contests are over well before every state can vote," said Sabato. "They have a right to vote. They just don't necessarily have a right to a competitive contest."

This contest does not necessarily hurt the party, experts say, calling thousands of newly registered Democrats in Pennsylvania proof of a healthy party.

"There's no hard evidence that her staying in the race hurts and, in fact, there's evidence it may be helping the party," Maisel said.

Each argument is politically expedient, said Thomas Patterson, professor of government at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

"You make the argument that fits your case," he said. "There's no question in my mind they would be making the opposite argument today if they were in opposite positions."

(Editing by David Alexander and David Wiessler)

(To read more about the US political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at http://blogs.reuters.com/trail08/ )