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A New Tone to the Long Primary Season

By Perry Bacon Jr. and Shailagh Murray
HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Hillary Clinton, stumping in Pennsylvania today, suggested Barack Obama's supporters were trying to push her out of the presidential race, which she vowed to continue, even as Obama has begun saying in recent days that he believes Clinton should run as long as she wants.

It's a message she also broadcast to local media in upcoming primary and caucus states yesterday. "A lot of Senator Obama's supporters want to end this race because they don't want people to keep voting," she told a station in Billings, Mont., on Monday. "People don't want this election taken away from them by the media or somebody sitting in an office in Washington."

In most of those interviews, Clinton blamed Obama's supporters, but in one, she blamed her rival directly.

"I didn't understand why Senator Obama and some of his supporters wanted to prevent you and other states from actually being able to vote," she told a Wilmington, N.C., station.

Clinton did eight television interviews, with stations in Montana, North Carolina and Indiana, as well as the Keystone State. She repeatedly emphasized that Obama supporters wanted her out.

In fact, few major figures other than Vermont Sen. Pat Leahy, who has endorsed Obama, have said Clinton should quit the race. Obama himself on Saturday, the day after Leahy's comments, said that Clinton should "run as long as she wants," while quietly nudging his supporters to adopt a similar conciliatory tone.

With Clinton now vowing to fight on through the 10 remaining primaries -- and possibly until the Democratic convention in late August -- Obama has cast himself as the happy warrior, eager to engage through the last primaries on June 3.

"This has been a great contest. Great for America," Obama declared at a rally Sunday afternoon in State College, as he campaigned across Pennsylvania by bus. Speaking later in Harrisburg, Obama called his battle with Clinton "historic" and urged his supporters not to lament the duration.

"I know that some people have been feeling, 'Oh, when is this going to be over,' and they're discouraged," Obama said. At least Democrats are paying attention, turning out in record numbers in state after state. "I want everyone to feel engaged and enthused and interested," Obama said. "That bodes well for our democracy."

The new tone is a calculated shift by the Obama campaign, as it woos undecided superdelegates and seeks to close Clinton's gaping lead in the Keystone state, which votes April 22. Obama aides have asserted for weeks that Clinton stands little chance of pulling ahead in the delegate count.

After Leahy's comments, Obama has discounted the drawbacks of a protracted battle. "I am absolutely confident that when this primary season is all over, Democrats will be united, because we understand what's at stake in this election," he said in State College.

By Monday morning, the talking points had circulated among Obama surrogates. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota announced her endorsement of Obama during a conference call organized by the Illinois senator's campaign and repeated the senator's words almost exactly. Clinton should "stay in as long as she wants to," said Klobuchar.

A senior Obama official said the overlap was no accident. The campaign is wary of Obama coming across as a bully to the older, blue-collar Democrats who make up a big portion of the Pennsylvania electorate, contributing to an impressive Clinton victory in three weeks. Officials also want to avoid a backlash among uncommitted superdelegates, some of whom remain genuinely undecided between Clinton and Obama.

Clinton said recently "I like long movies" in response to an Obama comment comparing the race to a movie. But she told the Billings station, "It's one of the longest things I have ever done.'

"It's longer than being pregnant," she joked.

By Web Politics Editor  |  April 1, 2008; 8:05 PM ET
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