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Opportunity Narrows for Clinton to Take Nomination

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

One day after the Indiana and North Carolina primaries, Hillary Clinton announced she had made another multimillion dollar loan to her campaign - $6.4 million of her own money. Yesterday, Clinton lost North Carolina by 14 points and squeaked past Barack Obama by two points in Indiana. Obama is within 200 delegates of clinching the Democratic presidential nomination and is flush with cash. He picked up several more superdelegates today, including one who switched over from Clinton. For her part, Hillary Clinton picked up one superdelegate of her own. And Obama was endorsed by the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee, George McGovern, the former South Dakota senator who is also a former supporter of Clinton. He is not a superdelegate.

NORRIS: But Senator Clinton is promising to fight on. And joining us to discuss what's next for both candidates is NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson.

Mara, the race is not necessarily different in terms of the math, but how is it different in terms of the dynamic?

MARA LIASSON: Well, what happened yesterday was not the kind of game-changer that would have shut the race down and produced a winner, but it was a watershed. Now, it is almost mathematically impossible, barring some unforeseen event that causes an Obama collapse, for Senator Clinton to get close to him in pledged delegates or in the popular vote - and that's what she needed to convince the superdelegates to come her way.

Last night, he won 15 more delegates than she did, net, and about 200,000 more popular votes, and there are only 217 pledged delegates left in all of the remaining contests. So even her supporters acknowledge how difficult this is for her, and you could really see that acknowledgement kind of etched on the faces of Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton, who were standing behind her last night. This is the end game of the Democratic primary.

NORRIS: But Hillary Clinton was in Shepherdstown today vowing to fight on. What is she saying, and what are her supporters saying in the face of these very daunting odds?

LIASSON: Well, first of all, they're talking about some new math. They're saying the winner needs 2,209 delegates, not 2,025. That would include the Florida and Michigan delegations, and she says she's going to take her case to get those delegations seated to the rules and bylaws committee at the end of this month. Then, if they're not, she'll appeal it to the credentials committee. She says she's going to fight on. Here's what she had to say today in Shepherdstown.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Presidential Candidate): I'm staying in this race until there's a nominee. And I obviously am going to work as hard as I can to become that nominee. That is what I have done, that's what I'm continuing to do. I believe that I'm the stronger candidate against Senator McCain, and I believe I would be the best president among the three of us running. So we will continue to contest these elections and move forward.

LIASSON: Of course there are a lot of different ways of staying in the race. You can stay in and attack Obama as an elitist, not ready to be commander in chief, that's he's naïve - or you can fight as hard as you can for yourself but don't try to bring your opponent down in the process. So there are only six more contests, less than a month to go, she's going to be in until June 3rd.

NORRIS: Now today, as we've said, Obama picked up the support of former Senator George McGovern. He had been a Hillary Clinton backer; now, he's calling on Hillary Clinton to drop out of the race. And he says there's virtually no way that she can win the nomination. Should we be expecting more people to step forward and call for her to step down?

LIASSON: I'm going to go out on a limb and say no. The Obama camp has really made that verboten. And today, Tad Devine, who's an uncommitted superdelegate and kind of a party elder or a junior elder, made a really good point. He said that in 1992, after Paul Tsongas dropped out, he beat Bill Clinton in Connecticut, and that humiliated Clinton. If she dropped out right now, she could very well win West Virginia and Kentucky, and that wouldn't be so good for Obama.

Today, really, is the beginning of a process to unify the Democratic Party. There's a lot of division and rancor. You know, half of her voters last night in the exit polls said they wouldn't vote for him if he was the nominee; a little less of his voters say the same thing. But those are opinions delivered in the heat of a primary campaign. A lot of that is going to fade, but there's still a lot of work to do, and a lot of that work can go on while both candidates are in the race.

NORRIS: So one of the big questions now is what does she really want? She says she wants to be president, but there's questions about why she's staying in the race, even if it seems nearly impossible that she can win the nomination.

LIASSON: Well, there's always a small chance. And when you're a fighter, like she is, you don't want to give up even that small chance. Also, you do want to give your supporters a chance to vote for you in these remaining states. The big question is, short of being president, what might she want. And that is the $60 million question, a lot of the Democrats are talking about it. She has to figure that out. That's a process that can't happen in 24 hours, but she does have to consider her options. Does she want a future in the Senate? What kind of future? Does she want to be on the ticket as the vice president? And what, if anything, would it take for her to get Obama to accept her and her husband on that ticket? Both campaigns say that discussion is very premature. It is, but you're going to hear plenty of talk about it.

NORRIS: Very quickly, Mara, what do you think of this theory that Clinton may actually want Barack Obama to lose so she can better her chances in 2012?

LIASSON: That theory is very widespread. You heard Jim Clyburn talk about it. Today, Howard Wolfson was asked about it on the conference call. He said that's completely ridiculous. She has spent her adult life in the Democratic Party, fighting for the party. And on a practical level, it makes no sense. Her future in the party is dependent on her doing everything possible to elect Obama if he's the nominee.

NORRIS: Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you, Michele.

NORRIS: That's NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Norris
Mara Liasson
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.