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Thread: As time runs short, Hillary Clinton claims lead in popular vote

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    Default As time runs short, Hillary Clinton claims lead in popular vote

    As Time Runs Short, Clinton Claims Lead in Popular Vote

    Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is entering the Kentucky and Oregon primaries on Tuesday with one of the most pugnacious political messages of her campaign: That she is ahead in the national popular vote when all votes are counted, including from the unsanctioned primaries in Michigan and Florida, and that party leaders who have a vote as super-delegates should reflect this level of appeal.

    This argument is of a piece with Mrs. Clinton’s increasingly populist image, as a fighter on behalf of average people, but it is also a debatable claim: Most tallies of the national popular vote put Mr. Obama in the lead, especially when Michigan and Florida are not counted.

    Mr. Obama has declared his own lead in the national vote and is solidly ahead in the overall delegate count, and he intends to use the results of the Kentucky and Oregon primaries to declare on Tuesday night that he has secured a majority of the pledged delegates from primaries and caucuses.

    While that does not guarantee the nomination, his campaign argues that it is an important moment and crucial for superdelegates to consider as well.

    Yet Mr. Obama does not plan to declare outright victory, his advisers say, because he does not want to appear to be pushing Mrs. Clinton out of the race. At this stage, his advisers say, he wants to treat her gracefully as a worthy Democratic fighter, not as a stubborn nemesis.

    The arguments over the cold math of the nomination contest will play out against a backdrop of two states that are likely to show once more the divisions in the Democratic electorate that have been exposed in this two-candidate contest: Mr. Obama is expected to win the primary in Oregon, a largely white state with a fairly liberal Democratic base, while Mrs. Clinton is expected to win in Kentucky, which has a strong working-class vote.

    Mrs. Clinton won a commanding victory last Tuesday in neighboring West Virginia, where racial considerations emerged as an unusually evident factor for some Democratic voters, according to exit polls.

    Both Clinton and Obama advisers say they are unsure if this will happen again in Kentucky, but they do not rule it out; Clinton advisers add that they believe race was a relatively small factor in the West Virginia vote.

    While the Clinton campaign has aggressively pressed its popular-vote argument in Kentucky, Mrs. Clinton has also been decrying the media in Washington for all but crowning Mr. Obama as the Democratic nominee, as Tim Russert of NBC News did two weeks ago on the night of the Indiana and North Carolina primaries. Clinton advisers say that pitting Mrs. Clinton and the voters, on one side, against Mr. Obama and Washington pundits will be a main theme of hers in the final primary contests.

    Mrs. Clinton has sounded almost like a professor of political science on the trail, explaining how the popular vote should be calculated by her lights, as she did before an audience in Kentucky on Monday.

    “I believe that with your help we will send a message to this country because right now more people have voted for me than have voted for my opponent,” she said. “More people have voted for me than for anybody ever running for president before. So we have a very close contest for votes, for delegates, and this is nowhere near over.

    None of us is going to have the number of delegates we’re going to need to get to the nomination, although I understand my opponent and his supporters are going to claim that.

    “The fact is we have to include Michigan and Florida — we cannot claim that we have a nominee based on 48 states, particularly two states that are so important for us to win in the fall,” Mrs. Clinton said.

    If all states with popular vote totals are counted — which would exclude four caucus states that have not released numbers — Mrs. Clinton would lead Mr. Obama by more than 26,000 votes out of more than 33 million cast. By other calculations, Mr. Obama is ahead in the popular vote.

    The Democratic National Committee will meet later this month to consider how to count Michigan and Florida in the nomination fight, if at all. Mr. Obama is right now aiming at accumulating 2,025 delegates, the number needed for the nomination if Michigan and Florida are left out. The Clinton campaign is arguing that the delegate goal will be higher because the two states should be counted.

    Robert Zimmerman, a New York media consultant who is a major fund-raiser for Mrs. Clinton, said the popular-vote argument was a good political framework for her candidacy because it emphasizes her electability in the fall. He also said it would be fair to count Michigan and Florida when Democrats are also counting the votes from state caucuses, which require people to participate at a certain time of the day, and therefore tend to leave shift workers and laborers at a disadvantage.

    “The controversies concerning the inequities of the caucus system, the Michigan and Florida primaries and the focus on electability by both campaigns makes the issue of the popular vote critically important to superdelegates,” Mr. Zimmerman said. “It should be expected that any potential nominee wins the popular vote on the way to the nomination”

    Mr. Obama, meanwhile, has declared his own lead in the national vote by factoring out the Michigan and Florida contests, since the Democratic Party did not approve them, none of the candidates campaigned there, and Mr. Obama took himself off the ballot in Michigan.

    His advisers argue that Mrs. Clinton’s claim of a popular vote lead is intellectually dishonest — and note that it echoes recent statements by none other than Karl Rove, President Bush’s former political adviser, who has argued that Mrs. Clinton would be a stronger opponent this fall against Senator John McCain in the electoral college contest.

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