Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nominating contest in Puerto Rico on Sunday, but still badly trails front-runner Barack Obama as he draws closer to clinching the party's presidential race.
Clinton's win in Puerto Rico, a territory where residents are not allowed to vote in the November election, gave her more fuel for her argument that she has won more popular votes in the five-month nominating fight and is the best Democrat to face Republican John McCain.
But the results pushed Obama closer to the magic number of 2,118 delegates needed to become the nominee, and the Illinois senator already has turned his attention to a general election fight with McCain.
Contests on Tuesday in Montana and South Dakota, with 31 pledged delegates to the August nominating convention at stake, conclude the voting in the Democratic presidential race.
Obama is about 45 delegates shy of securing the nomination and could reach the number quickly with help from some of the approximately 180 uncommitted superdelegates -- party officials who can back any candidate.
Clinton made a direct appeal to those delegates on Sunday, saying they should consider her argument that she would have the best chance to beat McCain and had won more votes than Obama.
"More people across the country have voted for our campaign. We are winning the popular vote," Clinton said during a loud victory celebration in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
"I do not envy the decision you must make," she said.
Clinton's claims about the popular vote are disputed by the Obama campaign and do not include states won by Obama that used a caucus system where individual votes are not tallied.
But popular votes do not determine the party's nominee, who is selected by delegates at the convention. Obama's lead in delegates is unassailable unless Clinton wins nearly all the remaining uncommitted superdelegates.
Obama, who called Clinton to congratulate her on her Puerto Rico win, looked past the New York senator while campaigning in South Dakota to focus on her role in his general-election race against McCain.
"Senator Clinton is an outstanding public servant. She is going to be a great asset when we go into November to make sure that we can defeat the Republicans," he said at a rally in Mitchell, South Dakota.
More Obama superdelegates
Obama picked up endorsements from at least two more superdelegates on Sunday.
Clinton had campaigned heavily in Puerto Rico, a Caribbean island with 55 delegates at stake, and defeated Obama by more than 2-to-1. Obama visited the territory for one day last week.
Obama cleared a significant hurdle on Saturday when a party committee decided to seat the disputed Michigan and Florida convention delegations at half-strength.
The decision prevented Clinton from significantly cutting his delegate lead. Clinton had won both disputed contests -- which were not sanctioned by the national party because of a dispute over their timing -- and demanded the delegations be seated at full voting strength.
"Now that Michigan and Florida have been added, we are getting close to the number that will give us the nomination," Obama said on Saturday in South Dakota after the rules committee meeting.
"And if we've hit that number Tuesday night we will announce that, and I think even if we don't, this is the end of the primary season," he said.
The Clinton campaign has said it planned to continue the fight and reserved the right to appeal the Michigan decision all the way to the national convention in Denver.
"We'll get to that in due time," Clinton told reporters on board a late-night flight to South Dakota, where she planned to campaign on Monday. "I think that there are a number of options available as we move forward."
"My political obituary has yet to be written," she added. "It's not over until the votes are cast. It's not over until there's actually a tally that gives somebody the nomination."
Once the long primary season ends on Tuesday, the Obama camp expects superdelegates to quickly line up behind him and end the campaign.
Obama plans a victory celebration after the South Dakota and Montana polls close on Tuesday night at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota -- the site of the Republican convention in September.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 02 Haziran 2008, 12:00