By John Whitesides, Reuters
WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton’s landslide West Virginia victory barely made a dent in Barack Obama’s big lead in the Democratic presidential race but she promised to keep pushing until the front-runner clinches the nomination.
Obama retains an almost unassailable advantage in delegates who will select the nominee at the party convention in August. He gained the support on Wednesday of two more superdelegates, who are free to back any candidate.
The new support came despite Obama’s crushing 41-point loss in West Virginia, where he once again had difficulty attracting white working-class voters who have flocked to Clinton’s side in the past few months.
Exit polls showed Obama, who would be the first black U.S. president, won support from less than one-quarter of white voters without a college degree.
Clinton hoped her showing could cause some Democrats to rethink Obama’s candidacy and bolster her case that she is the Democrat with the best chance to beat Republican John McCain in November’s election.
“This race isn’t over yet. Neither of us has the total delegates it takes to win,” the New York senator and former first lady said at a victory celebration in Charleston, West Virginia.
“I am more determined than ever to carry on this campaign until everyone has had a chance to make their voices heard,” she said, looking ahead to the final five nominating contests that conclude on June 3.
Obama made only one brief campaign stop in West Virginia before the contest and stayed far away as the results were announced. He visited the general election battleground of Missouri and looked ahead to a November match-up with McCain.
“A vote for John McCain is a vote for George Bush’s third term,” Obama said in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. “We cannot afford any more of the Bush-McCain program.”
Obama did not appear in public after the voting ended but a campaign spokeswoman said he left Clinton a congratulatory message on her mobile phone. He was in the general election battleground state of Michigan on Wednesday and goes to Florida next week.
Exit polls in West Virginia showed two of every 10 white voters said race was a factor in their decision and only a third of those said they would support Obama against McCain. Obama gained about a quarter of the white vote in West Virginia, which has a small black population.
Less than an hour after the polls closed, Clinton, whose campaign is at least $20 million in debt, sent supporters text messages and e-mails, urging them to donate money to her campaign.
“We think this race has got a lot more life in it and we’re going to go the distance,” Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson said on MSNBC.
Clinton planned to take her campaign to the airwaves on Wednesday evening with appearances on six television networks.
A delegate count by MSNBC gives Obama 1,881 delegates to Clinton’s 1,721. That leaves him 144 short of the 2,025 needed to clinch the nomination.
Neither candidate can win without help from superdelegates — nearly 800 party officials who are free to back any candidate. Obama has been gaining ground among superdelegates for weeks.
There were 28 delegates at stake in West Virginia and Obama has picked up 29 superdelegates in the past week.