USA - VOTE 2008

Clinton vows to 'win' after Puerto Rico victory

After an overwhelming win in Puerto Rico, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called on superdelegates to back her instead of rival Barack Obama as the party's nomination race draws to an end. Ed O'Keefe reports.


Hillary Clinton used the springboard of a hefty win in Sunday's Puerto Rico primary to demand that party elders crown her, and not Barack Obama, as the Democrats' best bet to seize back the White House.

However, Obama remained in sight of the Democratic presidential nomination after a fractious deal on Florida and Michigan struck at the weekend, ahead of Tuesday's climactic contests in Montana and South Dakota.

With 85 percent of the vote counted on the Caribbean US territory of Puerto Rico, Clinton was far ahead of her rival from Illinois with 68 percent to 32, according to US television networks.

In her victory speech, Clinton pivoted from thanking Puerto Ricans -- who are US citizens but lack a vote in November's election -- to addressing the single most important Democratic constituency left: "superdelegates."

"I will lead the popular vote. He (Obama) will maintain a lead in the delegate count," she said, anticipating Tuesday's finish to five months of coast-to-coast nominating battles.

"I ask you to consider these questions -- which candidate best represents the will of the people who voted in this historic primary? Which candidate is best able to lead to us victory in November?" she told superdelegates.

"And which candidate is best able to lead our nation as our president in the face of unprecedented challenges at home and abroad? I am in this race because I believe I am that candidate, and I will be that president."

CNN exit polls said that 72 percent of Clinton supporters in Puerto Rico would be unhappy with Obama as the Democratic nominee, reinforcing other polling evidence suggesting the party is at risk of fracture.

But a Democratic committee's decision Saturday to reinstate delegates from Michigan and Florida, with their voting power halved, put Obama two giant strides closer to making history as the first black presidential nominee.

Florida and Michigan had broken party rules by holding their primary votes in January. Clinton won both unofficial contests, though neither candidate campaigned in Florida, and Obama was not on the ballot in Michigan.

The compromise moved the finish line for the Democratic nominating contest up to 2,118 delegates, with Clinton gaining a net 24 delegates from the two-state deal struck at a stormy meeting in a Washington hotel.

That left Obama just 66 delegates short of the target, and he was expected to get about half the total of 86 pledged delegates on offer in Puerto Rico, Montana and South Dakota.

There are also nearly 200 superdelegates or top party officials who have yet to declare their allegiance.

Addressing a cheering crowd in South Dakota, Obama said he had telephoned Clinton to congratulate her on the Puerto Rico result.

The senator praised his rival from New York as an "outstanding public servant" who would be a "great asset" for the Democrats come November's election.

"And whatever differences, whatever differences Senator Clinton and I may have, look, those differences pale in comparison to the other side," he said.

In a blow to Clinton's hopes of running up a decisive lead in the national popular vote, Puerto Ricans failed to turn out in large numbers.

Judge Ramon Gomez, president of Puerto Rico's electoral commission, said about 360,000 residents voted, or about 15 percent of the territory's 2.4 million registered voters.

Top Clinton aide Harold Ickes complained the party had "hijacked" four delegates from Clinton in Michigan, and said the campaign may challenge the ruling ahead of the party's August nominating convention.

But Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs predicted that "sometime this week, we'll probably have a nominee for the Democratic Party and then we can get to the need to bring change to this country."

"If it's not Tuesday, I think it will be fairly soon," he told Fox.

Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean said the outcome decided Saturday was "the beginning of the healing of the party," despite screams of outrage from Clinton supporters who threatened to vote for McCain.

On a day of drama, Obama also announced Saturday he had quit his Chicago church after his campaign was rocked by incendiary racial rhetoric from its pulpit.

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