WASHINGTON — Sen. Hillary Clinton will campaign beyond Tuesday's West Virginia primary and take her fight for the Democratic presidential nomination all the way to the party's convention this summer if she or Sen. Barack Obama hasn't won enough delegates to clinch the party's nomination, her campaign advisers said Friday.
Clinton campaign strategist Geoff Garin and communications director Howard Wolfson, speaking to a breakfast meeting with reporters, repeated recent Clinton campaign assertions that the delegate majority is 2,209 to shoot down speculation that Clinton would drop out of the race after her expected defeat of Obama in West Virginia on Tuesday. Previously, Democrats had said 2,025 delegates would be needed to win, a number Obama is likely to reach on May 20, after the Oregon and Kentucky primaries.
The higher number would include the Michigan and Florida delegations, which have been barred from the Denver convention. Whether any portion of those delegations will be allowed will be discussed at a meeting of the Democratic National Committee rules committee scheduled for May 31.
The campaign's position comes as Obama's support among superdelegates — party officials and insiders who can vote however they choose — rises. Obama's aides said Friday that he'd picked up the support of eight new superdelegates, including one who'd supported Clinton.
Clinton also is lagging in the pledged delegate count and is short on campaign cash. Still, her advisers laid out a strategy in which her path to the nomination depends on wooing working-class, rural whites and seniors and pushing for the seating of delegates from Michigan and Florida. Those delegates were banned after their states defied party rules and moved up their primaries.
"Senator Clinton does far better with blue-collar voters, working-class voters in general," Garin said. "Historically, those have been the key swing voters in the general elections, and we believe that the evidence is clear that Senator Clinton is the better candidate to win those votes for the Democratic Party in November."
Clinton was more direct about her approach in an interview Thursday with USA Today.
"I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on," she told the paper.
Then Clinton referred to an Associated Press article, saying it "found how Senator Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening, and how whites in (North Carolina and Indiana) who had not completed college were supporting me."
At Friday's breakfast meeting, Garin and Wolfson suggested that Clinton's appeal to so-called "downscale Democrats" would give her longer coattails for congressional Democrats to ride on than Obama would.
They presented handouts that suggested that 20 freshman Democrats in Republican-leaning districts would have a better shot at re-election if Clinton were the nominee because she won 16 of the 20 districts during the primaries.
"We believe the evidence is that Senator Clinton can do more to help Democrats win a bigger majority in 2008," Garin said.
Clinton's brain trust continued to try to raise doubts about Obama's electability in the general election, pointing out that Clinton won big swing states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Florida. Wolfson aimed to set the bar high in West Virginia for Obama.
"What is the basis for the so-called presumptive nominee not competing in a state that would be a key swing state," Wolfson said. "If Senator Clinton wins West Virginia by 15 points after magazines, papers, television have declared him the nominee, what does that say about Senator Obama's ability to compete in states like West Virginia that we will need in our column? It's a problem that Senator Obama has essentially conceded the state."
But not everyone was buying the Clinton campaign's logic. Clinton suffered a major defection Friday when superdelegate Rep. Donald Payne of New Jersey, a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, switched his endorsement from Clinton to Obama.
"After careful consideration, I have reached the conclusion that Barack Obama can best bring about the change that our country so desperately wants and needs," Payne said in a written statement. "He embodies the American ideals of hope, optimism and the ability to take on tough challenges in order to solve difficult problems."
Wolfson said he didn't expect other members of the black caucus who supported Clinton to switch, but he added that "people are obviously free to exercise their conscience and support the candidate of their choice."
Clinton maintained a busy campaign schedule Friday, stumping in Portland, Ore., and Louisville, Ky. She's scheduled to attend a Mother's Day event in New York on Saturday.
Obama, meanwhile, was sounding more and more like a candidate who's looking toward accepting his party's presidential nomination this summer in Denver.
In a speech in Beaverton, Ore., on Friday, Obama didn't mention Clinton at all.
"There will be real differences on the ballot in November," Obama said in prepared remarks. "I believe it's time for Washington to work for your hopes, your dreams. And that's what I'll do every day as president of the United States."