Dems back off calls for Clinton to quit

AP/Houston Chronicle:

Debra Starks has heard the calls for Hillary Rodham Clinton to quit the presidential race, and she's not happy about it.

The 53-year old Wal-Mart clerk, bedecked with Clinton campaign buttons, thinks sexism is playing a role in efforts to push the New York senator from the race. Starks wants Clinton to push back.

"The way I look at it, she's a strong woman and she needs to stay in there. She needs to fight," Starks said at a Clinton campaign rally. "If you want to be president, you have to fight for what you want. If she stays in there and does what she's supposed to do, I think she'll be on her way."

Amid mounting calls from top Democrats for Clinton to step aside and clear the path for rival Barack Obama, strategists are warning of damage to the party's chances in November if women — who make up the majority of Democratic voters nationwide, but especially the older, white working-class women who've long formed the former first lady's base — sense a mostly male party establishment is unfairly muscling Clinton out of the race.

"Women will indeed be upset if it appears people are trying to push Hillary Clinton out of the way," said Carol Fowler, the South Carolina Democratic Party chair who is backing Obama. "If you are going to ask her to withdraw, you'd better be making a strong case for it — both to the candidate and the public."

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy last week became the first leading Democrat to openly call on Clinton to abandon her bid and back Obama, a sentiment shared by many activists worried that a drawn-out nominating contest only bolsters Republican nominee-in-waiting John McCain. Other Obama supporters have echoed that view while stopping short of asking Clinton to withdraw.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson on Sunday called Obama's lead all but insurmountable, while Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry said the contest would be reaching "a point of judgment" very soon.

"I don't think it's up to our campaign or any individual to tell Hillary Clinton or their campaign when that is," Kerry, the 2004 Democratic nominee, said on ABC's This Week on Sunday. "But there will be, I think, a consensus about it, and I think it's going to occur over these next weeks."

...

Obama reversed himself on this over the weekend and now says she should stay in the race. There is a good reason for that and it became apparent in the Gallop poll showing that supporters of Clinton would abandon the Democrats if Obama is the nominee. One way to insure that happens would be to push her out of the race early. They need to let her supporters think she has had a fair shot at winning to have any hope of keeping them in the fall. They have been so concerned about how divisive the campaign has turned that they did not consider how divisive it would be to force her out.

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