Her voice raspy, her tone determined, Hillary Rodham Clinton urged her supporters Thursday to ignore the political pundits who have declared her toast.
The former first lady raced into a long West Virginia-to-the-West Coast campaign day, declaring she would move forward with her presidential effort and insisting anew that she, not Barack Obama, would be the stronger Democratic candidate to face Republican John McCain in November.
But her fresh comments about race dogged her as she pressed forward with her struggling candidacy.
In an interview with USA Today published Thursday, Clinton said, “I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on.” She cited an Associated Press article “that found how Senator Obama’s support among working, hardworking Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me.”
“There’s a pattern emerging here,” she said.
Obama’s campaign did not respond to the comments, which generated buzz in the liberal blogosphere.
Working-class whites overwhelmingly favor Clinton over Obama, and their view of the Illinois senator has grown increasingly negative since late last year, according to Associated Press-Yahoo News polling. In an AP-Yahoo survey a month ago, more than half — or 53 percent — of whites who have not finished college had negative impressions of Obama, up a 12 points since November.
Data from exit polls also show that Obama’s problem with working-class whites persists. About six in 10 of them voted for Clinton in primaries on Super Tuesday (Feb. 5) and earlier, and they have leaned toward her slightly more since then. On Tuesday, Clinton was supported by 65 percent of whites who have not finished college in Indiana and 71 percent of them in North Carolina.
With virtually no chance of catching Obama in the popular vote or among pledged delegates, Clinton and her strategists have pinned their hope on persuading superdelegates — elected officials and party activists — that she would be the stronger Democrat to run against McCain.
Harold Ickes, who heads the Clinton campaign’s outreach to superdelegates, has acknowledged discussing Obama’s controversial former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, with superdelegates, saying Wright’s incendiary anti-American sermons and other comments could alienate voters in the fall.
At a rally under the dome of the West Virginia Capitol, Clinton dismissed calls for her to drop out as “deja vu all over again.” She said she had faced similar pressure before going on to win primaries in New Hampshire, Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania.
She made her case for pressing on, and thanked her supporters for doing the same.
“A lot of you have stuck with me. You’ve been through all the ups and downs in this campaign, the biggest victories and toughest moments,” Clinton said. “I think it is because you understand that you’ve got to have a president who gets up every day and fights for you, who never gives up on you.”
Her fading chances didn’t diminish the loyalty of Evelyn Smith, 78, one of hundreds of supporters who jammed into the Capitol and waited nearly two hours to hear Clinton speak.
“It’s going to take a miracle for her to get the nomination, which I could sit down and cry about because I think she really deserves to be president and the first lady president,” Smith said.
Smith said Clinton should stay in the race until the final contests June 3. “I’m a lot like she is, and I would go to the finish line even if I came in last and took a fall. I’d make it to the finish line, and I think she should, too,” she said.
Jim Duffield, 64, agreed.
“Of course she should keep going until we get a winner,” he said.
Said Clinton as her audience cheered: “I’m running to be president of all 50 states. I think we ought to keep this going so the people of West Virginia’s voices are heard.”
In contrast to her confrontational comments in speeches leading up to recent primaries, Clinton’s only mention of Obama on Thursday was to say next Tuesday’s primary in West Virginia would be a test for both of them. She did highlight her strengths with various voting blocs through the primaries, an implicit comparison with her Democratic foe. She said the states she has won and the voters she has attracted are essential if the party is to reclaim the White House.
“We need to bring back hardworking people to the Democratic Party,” the New York senator said. “I’m winning Catholic voters and Hispanic voters, blue-collar workers and seniors. People Senator McCain will need in the general election.”
She added, “Some call you swing voters. I call you Americans.”
At a rally at an airport hangar in Sioux Falls, Clinton said, “There are some folks arguing we should stop voting,” Clinton said, eliciting boos. South Dakota and Montana cast the last primary votes June 3.
In Sioux Falls, Gabriella Collignon said there was no way Clinton should drop out.
“I think it shows a lot about her personality that she’s going to keep going,” Collignon said.
West Virginia’s demographic makeup of white, older voters favors Clinton. During her appearance Thursday, she offered the same populist pitch she began making in the closing days before Indiana and North Carolina voted.
She renewed her call for a summertime holiday for the federal gasoline tax, with oil companies making up the difference, a proposal that many economists — and Obama — have dismissed as a meaningless pander.
The West Virginia rally was the first event on Clinton’s exceptionally busy campaign schedule Thursday. She also planned an appearance in Oregon.
She is favored to win West Virginia’s primary but has fallen further behind Obama in delegates won in primaries and caucuses. Her hopes for the Democratic nomination rest on strong showings in the remaining six contests to convince more than 200 party elders and other “superdelegates” to support her.
Obama met in Washington with superdelegate members of Congress, telling them it was now time to declare for him. He picked up support from at least two superdelegates: Reps. Brad Miller of North Carolina, where Obama handily won the primary this week, and Rick Larsen of Washington state.