Clinton and Obama spar as next primary approaches

WASHINGTON – Hillary Rodham Clinton declared Wednesday that her primary victories in Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island had reordered the Democratic presidential race in her favor. A resilient Barack Obama countered with fresh pledges of support from superdelegates and said his lead remained intact.One day after his worst showing in a month, Obama blamed negative attacks by the former first lady for his defeats and quickly made good on a promise to sharpen his criticism of her.

But there was no disputing he had missed a chance to drive her from the race.

“I’m concerned about unity. That’s the major reason I’ve stayed out of this,” said Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, who is neutral. “The longer this campaign goes on, the more difficult it will be to unify and heal.”

Returns from Texas caucuses showed Obama reclaiming some of the ground in the delegate competition that he lost Tuesday night as Clinton’s victories piled up. Overall, she showed a gain of 12 delegates for the contests on the ballot, according to The Associated Press count, with another dozen to be awarded. In all 370 were at stake.

In addition, Obama gained endorsements from superdelegates in Georgia, Vermont, Ohio, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Clinton picked up two superdelegates during the day but lost one, for a gain of one.

Obama’s overall delegate lead stood at 1,566 to 1,462 as the rivals looked ahead to the final dozen contests on the calendar. It takes 2,025 to win the nomination.

That left weeks for public campaigning, millions more to be spent on television ads, probably one more debate and plenty of private cajoling of party leaders, the superdelegates who attend the convention but are not chosen in primaries or caucuses.

About 350 of them remain uncommitted, enough to swing the nomination in the unlikely event they decide to line up behind one candidate or the other.

“We are vigorously talking to the uncommitted automatic delegates. The Obama campaign is doing the same thing,” Harold Ickes, a Clinton adviser, told reporters.

While the Democratic Party stripped the two states of their delegates as punishment for holding primaries too early, Republicans cut the two delegations in half.

Of more immediate concern for Clinton and Obama are the Wyoming caucuses, scheduled for Saturday, with 12 delegates at stake, and the Mississippi primary next Tuesday, with 33 more.

Obama has plans to campaign in both states, but it appeared Clinton would focus her energy on the Pennsylvania primary on April 22.