Democrat Hillary Clinton Wednesday vowed she would not quit the party's bitter White House race, but faced mounting pressure to step aside in favor of a resurgent Barack Obama.
Democratic presidential hopeful New York Senator Hillary Clinton (R) takes a photograph with a supporter at Shepherd University McMurran Hall n Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Clinton Wednesday vowed to stay in the Democratic White House race until a nominee is chosen.(AFP/Getty Images/Joe Raedle)
"I am staying in this race until there is a nominee," Clinton told reporters in West Virginia, which holds its presidential primary next Tuesday. "I am going to work as hard as I can to become that nominee."
Clinton leapt back onto the campaign trail with a hastily arranged stop here, after being trounced by Obama in Tuesday's North Carolina primary and winning by only a hair's breadth in Indiana.
But some of the fire seemed to have seeped out of the New York senator, as she reeled off a toned-down version of her stump speech. Significantly, she did not once mention or attack her rival.
Clinton's failure to pull off the "game-changer" result she needed in the twin primaries triggered calls for her to allow Obama to muster for a general election showdown with Republican John McCain.
George McGovern, the Democrats' defeated presidential candidate in 1972, urged the former first lady to step aside for the good of the party as he threw his support behind Obama.
And a prominent Clinton supporter, Senator Dianne Feinstein, said she wanted to hear from the former first lady to explain "her view on the rest of the race and what the strategy is."
Quoted in The Hill newspaper, which covers Congress, the California Democrat also said: "I think the race is reaching the point now where there are negative dividends from it, in terms of strife within the party.
"I think we need to prevent that as much as we can."
In a further sign she is floundering, Clinton lent her campaign 6.4 million dollars over the past month, according to aides. That took her personal input from her own fortune to more than 11 million dollars.
Despite the grim outlook, Clinton argued anew that even though she dropped further behind Obama in nominating delegates, she remained a better bet to take on McCain in the general election.
But the Obama campaign subtly upped the pressure, while also showing signs of being content to afford her a graceful exit.
"In my judgment, last night Barack Obama took a giant and a decisive stride toward the nomination," said defeated 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry, on a conference call of heavyweight supporters of the Illinois senator.
Senator Claire McCaskill said: "It would be inappropriate and awkward and wrong for any of us to tell Senator Clinton when it is time for the race to be over."
Obama thrashed Clinton 56-42 percent in North Carolina, bouncing back from weeks of missteps and the controversy over his former pastor that had threatened to derail his bid to become the first black US president.
Clinton then took Indiana by 51-49 percent, but only after she saw her once commanding lead whittled down to a mere 18,400 votes.
With Obama only an estimated 177 delegates shy of the 2,025 needed for the party's nomination according to the independent web site RealClearPolitics.com, Clinton appears to be running out of options in her quest to be the first woman president.
All day, the Clinton campaign fought a blizzard of media commentary declaring the race over in advance of the final six primaries climaxing on June 3.
Clinton's communications director Howard Wolfson hit back: "The punditocracy does not control this contest, voters do."
Clinton insisted that the race might well change on May 31 if, at a meeting of the Democratic National Committee's rules committee, she regains the delegates she lost when primary results in Florida and Michigan were voided.
"And this is really about fundamental fairness in recognizing the legitimate votes of two important states that Democrats have to try to win in November," she said, after the two states were punished for holding their votes early.
Analysts said the party's remaining undeclared superdelegates, who can vote for the candidate of their choice, would start flocking to Obama's side in light of Tuesday's results.
At least four more superdelegates came off the fence Wednesday to endorse Obama -- two state leaders from North Carolina, one from California and one assembly member from Virginia who abandoned Clinton for Obama. Clinton scooped up one in North Carolina.