BILLINGS – Her chances of securing the Democratic presidential nomination narrowing by the day, Hillary Rodham Clinton asserted Tuesday that she would be a stronger candidate than Barack Obama to square off against John McCain in November.
The former first lady has refrained from criticizing Obama directly in recent weeks as he has built an almost insurmountable lead among the delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination. But without mentioning his name, Clinton strongly implied that if the Illinois senator becomes the nominee he could be headed for defeat in the general election.
“We have not gone through this exciting, unprecedented, historical election only to lose,” Clinton told several hundred supporters here. “You have to ask yourself, who is the stronger candidate? And based on every analysis of every bit of research and every poll that’s been taken and every state a Democrat has to win, I am the stronger candidate against John McCain in the fall.”
With just three primaries left in Puerto Rico, Montana and South Dakota and 86 delegates yet to secure, Clinton trails Obama by nearly 200 delegates. To keep alive her slender hope of winning the nomination, she is counting on a Democratic Party rules committee Saturday to restore the delegations from Michigan and Florida, whose primaries were voided when they moved into January in violation of party rules.
Clinton and her advisers also have pressed the case with uncommitted superdelegates that she is better positioned than Obama to win in November, pointing to her primary victories in swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Even so, most superdelegates choosing sides in the past several weeks have sided with Obama.
Earlier Tuesday, Clinton visited an Indian reservation where she pledged her commitment to tribal sovereignty and Indian health care.
“I want to be a strong partner with Indian country,” Clinton told several hundred people in Pablo at Salish Kootenai College on the sprawling Flathead Indian reservation. Among other things, she promised to name a representative of the American Indian community to work alongside her in the White House.
Clinton’s visit came a week before primaries in Montana and South Dakota are expected to feature a sizable representation of American Indian voters.
In an exceptionally scenic setting of snow-covered mountains and tall pine trees, the former first lady was greeted by dancers performing a spiritual dance and given a set of moccasins and a necklace by Joe McDonald, president of the tribal college.
“Wear this next to your heart,” McDonald told her. Clinton wore the beaded necklace as she spoke, and appeared moved by the scene that greeted her.
“I humbly ask for your support,” she said to applause.
Americans Indians are expected to make up as much as 20 percent of next Tuesday’s Democratic primary voters in Montana, and more than 10 percent in South Dakota, where Clinton was headed Wednesday. She planned to visit the Pine Ridge Reservation, home to several thousand members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.
Obama also has paid heed to American Indian concerns, even as he has begun to focus on the likely general election contest against McCain. Earlier this month, he visited Montana’s Crow Indian reservation and was adopted into the Crow Nation during a private ceremony.
McCain also has ties to American Indians. He is from Arizona and is a former chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.
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