BOZEMAN – Former President Bill Clinton said Saturday that a victory by his wife in next month’s Democratic primary in Montana could force party leaders to reassess her bid for the presidential nomination.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has been scrambling to close a widening delegate lead held by Sen. Barack Obama with only three contests yet to be decided.
Her husband told a crowd at Montana State University in Bozeman that Clinton victories in Montana and South Dakota on June 3 would boost her claim that she deserves the party’s nomination — and could persuade key superdelegates to support her.
“She can still be nominated. Don’t let anybody kid you,” Clinton said as the crowd of several hundred cheered. “All these superdelegates that have said they’re for this one or that one or the other, they can all flip. So you do matter.”
The former president also said his wife, if elected, would turn around the nation’s ailing economy, end the war in Iraq and enact universal health care.
His appearance in Montana came as Obama edges ever-closer to capturing enough delegates for the nomination. A tally by The Associated Press showed him just 54 delegates shy of the 2,026 delegates needed.
“Sen. Obama is honored to have earned the support of so many members of Congress and other superdelegates in recent weeks and to have won a majority of elected delegates,” Obama spokesman Matt Chandler said. “But he is going to continue to focus on his agenda to change America and will continue to work for every vote.”
Three of Montana’s eight superdelegates have come out for Obama. A fourth, state Democratic party vice-chair Margarett Campbell, has said she backs the Illinois senator but is precluded by party rules from making an official endorsement.
The remaining four — U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus, Gov. Brian Schweitzer and state party chairman Dennis McDonald — have said they will wait until after the primary before announcing a decision.
With just ten days until the primary, political analyst James Lopach said both camps are drawing from internal polling to plot where their appearances can yield maximum impact. After his speech in Bozeman, Bill Clinton was off to Lewistown and Miles City for campaign rallies.
Lopach, chair of the political science department at Montana State University, said neither candidate is putting much effort into converting voters who already have decided. Rather, he said, they are hoping to firm up their base and motivate supporters.
“They’ll be reinforcing (their message) and trying to turn out people,” Lopach said. “Bill Clinton used polls as masterfully as anybody, and they have their internal polls that advise them where to spend their time and what their message will be.”
Sixteen pledged delegates are at stake in Montana’s June 3 primary.
Bill Clinton was the last Democratic presidential candidate to capture Montana’s electoral votes in a general election, in 1992.
Hillary Clinton is scheduled to return to Montana on Tuesday for an event in Billings. She last visited in April, at the same time as Obama. Obama is also likely to return, according to his campaign, but no date has been set.
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