WASHINGTON (AFP) — Hillary Clinton's last-gasp campaign to derail her rival Barack Obama's accelerating drive towards the Democratic White House nomination looked to be coming to an end Monday.
Ahead of the final two primaries Tuesday in Montana and South Dakota, even the former first lady's husband hinted at imminent defeat as party leaders coalesce behind Obama to take on Republican John McCain.
"I want to say also that this may be the last day I'm ever involved in a campaign of this kind," former president Bill Clinton told a rally of his wife's supporters in South Dakota.
"I thought I was out of politics, till Hillary decided to run. But it has been one of the greatest honors of my life to be able to go around and campaign for her for president," he added.
The Clinton campaign announced that she would hold an election night "celebration" Tuesday in her home state of New York, bypassing South Dakota and Montana.
Far-flung Clinton staffers handling advance planning for campaign rallies have been reportedly told their services will no longer be required after Tuesday. The candidate was to spend the day huddled with Bill and top aides.
But fresh from a two-to-one victory over Obama in Puerto Rico on Sunday, Clinton told The Washington Post that she may challenge a decision by Democratic leaders on convention delegates from Michigan and Florida.
"We reserve the right to do it. But I haven't made a decision yet," Clinton said, leaving open the prospect of a struggle all the way to the party's August nominating convention in Denver, Colorado.
Clinton's hopes now hinge on stemming a flood of Obama endorsements from the roughly 200 Democratic leaders or "superdelegates" who have yet to declare a preference.
James Clyburn, who as majority whip in the House of Representatives is the highest-ranking African-American in Congress, was set to endorse Obama Tuesday, a congressional source said.
Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen, who has remained neutral, said he and "most uncommitted superdelegates" would also break cover Tuesday.
"And I think it's very much in the party's interest to have a nominee and to get moving on with the election," he told MSNBC.
Obama was set Tuesday night to address thousands of supporters in the same conference hall in St. Paul, Minnesota where the Republican convention will be held in September.
Both the venue and the timing, on the night that the five-month primary campaign comes to an end, were freighted with political symbolism.
According to the Obama campaign, he is now 42.5 delegates away from the new winning line of 2,118, which went up on Saturday under the contentious deal to reinstate Florida and Michigan despite their violation of scheduling rules.
The two states' representatives were given half a vote each at the Denver convention, and one of five superdelegates who endorsed Obama Monday was from Florida.
Clinton advisor Harold Ickes said she was still lobbying superdelegates, who have a free vote at the convention, that she was the best potential president based on her popular vote tally and strength in swing states.
Obama, however, has already pivoted away from his primary tussle with the tenacious Clinton to attack McCain as the outlines of the general election campaign take shape.
The two clashed anew Monday over Iraq, national security and Obama's advocacy of a new diplomacy with US adversaries such as Iran.
In a Washington speech to the powerful US-Israel lobby, McCain called for tough new sanctions on Iran if it fails to halt its nuclear program and advocated a bid to starve the Islamic republic of gasoline.
The Arizona senator also said Obama's offer to hold presidential-level talks with Tehran as a "serious misreading of history."
McCain's warning came hours after Iran's firebrand president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said Israel "is about to die and will soon be erased from the geographical scene."
The Obama campaign accused McCain of wanting to extend President George W. Bush's policies in the Middle East, which the Democrat says have only strengthened Iran.
"John McCain stubbornly insists on continuing a dangerous and failed foreign policy that has clearly made the United States and Israel less secure," Obama spokesman Hari Sevugan said.
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