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Clinton: Obama camp wants to end race

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  • Clinton: Obama supporters want race to end; don't want people to keep voting
  • Obama camp says Clinton's claims are "ridiculous"
  • Clinton camp has used calls for her to quit presidential race as a fundraising tool
  • Obama: Clinton can stay in as long as she wants
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By Peter Hamby
CNN
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PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- As Sen. Hillary Clinton's underdog campaign soldiers on through Pennsylvania, Indiana and North Carolina, she has begun casting herself as a champion of democracy.

Sen. Hillary Clinton has accused Sen. Barack Obama's campaign of trying to disenfranchise voters.

"There are some folks saying we ought to stop these elections," she said in Indianapolis, Indiana, on March 29 -- the audience booed the notion.

"I don't think we believe that in America," she said. "The more people that have a chance to vote, the better it is for our democracy."

As Pennsylvania's primary nears, Clinton's staffers have increasingly accused Barack Obama's campaign of trying to disenfranchise Democrats. On Monday, in a satellite interview with a television station in Montana, Clinton herself made the charge.

"My take on it is a lot of Sen. Obama's supporters want to end this race because they don't want people to keep voting," she told KTVQ in Billings, Montana. "That's just the opposite of what I believe. We want people to vote. I want the people of Montana to vote, don't you?" Video Watch Clinton talk about what's at stake »

It is a growing theme in Clinton's stump speech as she makes her way through upcoming primary states: that she alone, up against rival forces aiming to silence the millions of voters in the 10 remaining primary and caucus states, will stand up for their right to vote.

Obama spokesman Bill Burton called the insinuation that the Illinois senator or his supporters want to shut the race down "ridiculous."

"That is completely laughable from a campaign that thought the race would be over on February 5," said Burton. "We have encouraged our supporters to do no such thing and Sen. Obama was very clear he supports her carrying on in this race."

But the argument has been a guaranteed applause line for Clinton from supporters in small towns in Pennsylvania and Indiana, and in cities like Louisville, Kentucky, and Winston-Salem, North Carolina -- places that normally have little say in the presidential nominating process.

"I know there are some in Washington, and some in the media, who want this race to be over," she remarked at a rally in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, last week. "Well I disagree. Everyone's voices should count."

The New York senator began using variations of the line as pundits began to openly speculate about the mathematical impossibility of her winning the Democratic nomination. Clinton trails Obama among pledged delegates, as well in the popular vote tally.

But after Sens. Chris Dodd and Patrick Leahy -- both supporters of Obama --stated late last week that Clinton should step aside for the sake of party unity, she amplified her rhetoric, accusing Obama supporters of actively trying to prevent voters from heading to the polls.

By defiantly staying in the race and offering her supporters the chance to vote, Clinton has found a way to remain relevant in the vacuum between the March 4 contests and Pennsylvania, a state she must win, argued Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf.

"She was smart enough to see it as a way to set herself as a victim to make sure her support remained solid wherever it was," Sheinkopf said. "What she's saying is, 'They're trying to get me out, but I stand for you and I'm not leaving because I am fighting for the people who need me.' "

Clinton's new posture emerged from the campaign's efforts to seat the contested delegations from Michigan and Florida. In their push to either hold re-votes in those two states or seat the delegations as they currently stand, Clinton's campaign has accused Obama of stalling, and obstructing the will of the voters.

Given the Democratic party's experience with ballot-counting in Florida during the 2000 election, accusing a primary opponent of impeding the will of voters is an especially toxic charge, but the Clinton campaign has still made the claim.

On one conference call with reporters, Clinton spokesman Phil Singer accused the Obama campaign of a "passive aggressive effort" to "disenfranchise" the Floridians who voted in the state's primary on January 29.

Clinton scheduled a last minute trip to Michigan on March 19 to press for a revote and challenge Obama's commitment to American voters. In Detroit, Michigan, Clinton argued that seating the Michigan and Florida delegations was a simple matter of civil rights, and that not counting the votes of people in Michigan would be "un-American."

The campaign used calls for her to quit the presidential race as a fundraising tool. Over the weekend, Bill Clinton e-mailed supporters under the subject line: "Not big on quitting."

"With all the talk of the state of the race, all the people telling her she should just give up, you and I must make sure she has everything she needs to stay in this race," the former president wrote in the email, soliciting a donation of $5 or more before the March fundraising deadline.

The former president has charged that Obama's supporters want to end the race and stifle voters because his wife has the late momentum.

"I know Hillary's gaining on them when they say, 'Oh, let's shut this down now; we don't want to be divided," Clinton said in West Virginia last month. "Let's just disenfranchise several of the million people who could vote."

"Don't you think that your vote should count as much as the people who voted in Iowa first?" he asked. "Yeah, well so does Hillary."

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In an interview with a Pennsylvania radio station Tuesday, Obama again denied that his campaign was pushing for Clinton to step aside.

"I've said for the last three days that I think that Sen. Clinton should stay in the race as long as she wants," Obama told KDKA radio in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. "She has every right to compete and I'm looking forward to competing against her." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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