Clinton wins Puerto Rico primary

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., shakes hands at the Kaslata Bakery in San Juan, as she campaigns on primary day in Puerto Rico, Sunday, June 1, 2008.

The Associated Press
Published: Sunday, June 1, 2008 at 3:56 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, June 1, 2008 at 3:56 p.m.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico- Hillary Rodham Clinton won a lopsided, but largely symbolic victory Sunday in Puerto Rico's presidential primary, the final act in a weekend of tumult that brought Barack Obama tantalizingly close to the Democratic presidential nomination.

The former first lady was gaining more than 60 percent of the vote in early returns, and a pre-election poll suggested she could wind up with nearly two-thirds support.

In defeat, Obama was on track to gain at least 14 delegates, bringing him within 50 of the 2,118 needed for the nomination.

Aides to the 46-year-old Illinois senator said he would clinch the long-sought prize within days. "We hope this week, absolutely," said spokesman Robert Gibbs. Montana and South Dakota hold primaries on Tuesday, the last of the primary campaign season.

Gibbs' confidence reflected the outcome of Saturday's meeting of the Democratic Party's rules and bylaws committee. Before an audience that jeered and cheered by turns, the panel voted to seat disputed delegations from Michigan and Florida, but give each delegate only one-half vote rather than the full vote sought by the Clinton campaign.

While the decision narrowed the gap between Clinton and Obama, it also erased the former first lady's last, best chance to change the course of the campaign.

A telephone poll of likely Puerto Rican voters taken in the days leading up to the primary suggested an electorate sympathetic to Clinton heavily Hispanic, as well as lower income and more than 50 percent female. About one-half also described themselves as conservative.

Nearly three-quarters of all those interviewed said they had a favorable view of Clinton, compared to 53 percent for Obama. One-third said they didn't know enough about Obama to form an impression.

The survey was conducted Tuesday through Saturday for The Associated Press and the television networks by Princeton Survey Research Associates International. It included 1,587 likely voters with a candidate preference; sampling error was plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Obama campaigned in South Dakota during the day, while Clinton was in Puerto Rico hoping for a victory celebration.

There are 31 delegates combined at stake in Montana and South Dakota on Tuesday, and Obama's high command sounded confident that enough superdelegates were poised to quickly climb on and deliver him the nomination.

In addition, there have been numerous statements by party leaders in recent days

indicating they favor a quick end to the presidential race so the party can begin unifying for the fall race against John McCain, the Arizona senator who wrapped up the Republican nomination months ago.

And while Clinton's campaign said it reserved the right to challenge the decision concerning Michigan's delegates, Speaker Nancy Pelosi rushed out a statement Saturday night that congratulated the committee "for its good work."

The California Democrat has been neutral in the race, but also has been calling uncommitted lawmakers in recent days, urging them to issue their own endorsements soon after Tuesday.

Gibbs also did not rule out the possibility that Obama will seat the Michigan and Florida delegations at full strength if he is the nominee.

"I think any nominee may make some decisions at some point regarding those delegations," he said on ABC's "This Week."

McAuliffe, appearing on the same program, declined to say what Clinton would do.

"We'll see where we are when we finish up Tuesday," he said. "Then superdelegates will begin to move."

He, as well as Clinton's communications director, Howard Wolfson, said the former first lady had won more votes that Obama in the course of the primary campaign.

Gibbs disputed that and Clinton's claim includes the results of Florida, where no campaigning occurred, as well as Michigan, where Obama's name was not on the ballot. Her calculation fails to include caucuses in Iowa, Maine and Washington, all of which Obama won. In those states, delegates were awarded but party officials did not report any popular vote breakdown between the two candidates.

Clinton's campaign objected to the rules committee decision on Michigan's delegates, saying it had arbitrarily taken four delegates away from the former first lady and awarded them to Obama. As a result, officials said she may seek a decision on the issue by the convention credentials committee, which meets shortly before the convention opens in Denver.

Harold Ickes, a top adviser to Clinton, said on NBC's "Meet The Press" no decision had yet been made.

"I have not had a chance to talk with Senator Clinton at any length about it, and obviously this will be a big decision. But her rights are reserved," he said.

But one of her strongest supporters, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, sounded uninterested in a further challenge.

"I don't think we're going to fight this at the convention, because even were we to win it, unless it's going to change enough delegates for Senator Clinton to win the nomination, then it would be a fight that would have no purpose," Rendell said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

The Puerto Rico primary drew far more attention than is customary, and Clinton campaigned over two successive weekends.

Some polling places in the capital of San Juan were busy soon after they opened while others were idle. More than 20 schools serving as polling sites opened late because janitors were protesting late-arriving paychecks, the Department of Education said.

Angel Barrios, who was among two dozen people who voted in the first five minutes at a school basketball court, said he's known for months that he would vote for Clinton.

"She has the kind of help that the other one doesn't have her husband. He is a good adviser," Barrios said.

One woman who said she voted for Obama refused to give her name, fearing her pro-Clinton friends would shun her if they knew.

"He's refreshing because he's not dragging everything from previous administrations," she said. "He has an energy that we need."

Clinton also got an early start, chatting up customers, posing for photos and signing posters during a visit to Kasalta Bakery in San Juan.

Correspondent David Espo reported from Washington.

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