WASHINGTON (AP) _ Barack Obama turned his focus to the expected presidential contest against Republican John McCain, but Hillary Rodham Clinton tried to keep her campaign afloat Sunday even though her Democratic rival has an almost insurmountable lead in the delegate count.
Obama, inching closer day by day to claiming enough delegates to secure the nomination, was spending the Mother's Day holiday off the campaign trail at home in Chicago. But Clinton spent Sunday wooing voters in West Virginia ahead of Tuesday's primary.
Arriving amid thunderstorms, Clinton and her daughter, Chelsea, took seats in the second row of First United Methodist Church in Huntington, West Virginia, and listened to a sermon about Mother's Day.
“Give us eyes to see the miracles around us,'' Dr. Paul Russell said, leading the worshippers in prayer. Hillary Clinton read along with the congregation.
Clinton's presidential bid needs a miracle, especially after Obama raced past her Saturday in the all-important count of superdelegates.
Clinton, who's vying to be the country's first woman president, started the year with a lead of 169-63 among superdelegates. Now Obama has endorsements from 276 superdelegates, according to the latest tally by The Associated Press. Clinton has 271.5.
Superdelegates are the nearly 800 party and elected officials who attend the Democratic national convention this August in Denver and are free to support whomever they choose, regardless of the primary results.
They are key because the Democratic race has been so close that neither Obama nor Clinton can win the nomination without them.
Clinton sought to remind Democrats of her strong support among women while campaigning for a big win in West Virginia's primary that she hopes will keep her campaign afloat.
Clinton is trying to highlight her support among women, white working-class voters, and older voters. Those demographics make West Virginia friendly territory where polls show her leading Obama by as much as 40 percentage points. Obama planned to campaign in West Virginia on Monday.
Clinton campaign strategist Howard Wolfson said West Virginia is a key swing state that Republicans won in 2000 and 2004, and that the former first lady will put back in the Democratic column. He said Obama should beat her there if he wants her out of the race.
“Why can't Senator Obama beat Senator Clinton in West Virginia? Voters there have heard that he's the presumptive nominee,'' Wolfson said in a television interview on “Fox News Sunday.''
“They've seen the great press he's gotten in the past couple of days. Let's let them decide. They have an opportunity. They want to end this on Tuesday, they're perfectly capable of it.''
But even a dramatic primary win by Clinton in West Virginia won't make much of a dent in Obama's overall lead in the delegate count. Only 28 delegates are at stake in West Virginia.
In the overall race for the nomination, Obama has 1,864.5 delegates and Clinton has 1,697, according to the latest AP tally; 2,025 are needed to secure the Democratic nomination.
Clinton has struggled to raise money in recent weeks, and was set back further last Tuesday when she squeaked by with a narrow win in Indiana while Obama won handily in North Carolina.
“We're coming to the end of the process …,'' Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, said in a television interview on “Fox News Sunday.''
“I think there's an eagerness on the part of the party leadership and activists across the country to get on with the general election campaign. Senator McCain's been out there campaigning as the nominee for some time, and I think people are eager to engage.''
That's exactly what Obama did Saturday while campaigning in Oregon, which holds its primary on May 20.
Barely mentioning Clinton, Obama said he was open to campaigning with McCain in “town hall'' events. McCain's advisers have already said he would be open to holding such joint forums or unmoderated debates in which both candidates would take questions from voters.
Obama, who is bidding to be the first black president, warned that he won't stay away from controversial issues and he attacked McCain's proposal for a temporary halt in the federal gasoline tax as a “pander.''
In a sign of his new focus on McCain, Obama is beginning to campaign in states without upcoming primaries. He said he will soon visit Michigan and Florida, two battleground states whose Democratic primaries were essentially nullified by party disputes, and Tuesday he is slated to visit Missouri for a campaign event focusing on economic issues.
During a campaign stop in Bend, Oregon, Obama made sure to say that he had not won the nomination yet, but nonetheless entertained several questions about the likely outlines of a contest against McCain, saying the election will be more about specific plans and priorities than about questions of political ideology or patriotism.
“Rather than an abstract set of questions about, 'Is he too liberal, is he too conservative, how do voters handle an African American, et cetera,' I think this is going to be a very concrete contest around very specific plans for how we improve the lives of Americans and our vision for the future,'' he said. “I think it is going to have to do with who has a plan to provide relief to people when it comes to their gas prices, who has a real plan to make sure that everybody has health insurance, who's got a real plan to deal with college affordability.''
Obama said he realizes he must continue introducing himself to millions of Americans who do not know him well, and acknowledged that some question his patriotism because he no longer wears a lapel flag pin.
He said the test of patriotism “is whether we are true to the ideals and values upon which this country was founded,'' and willing to fight for them “even when it's politically inconvenient.''
Obama said McCain has received “a free pass'' while he and Clinton have battled for months.
Wolfson said Clinton is determined to stay in the race until the last of the six remaining nominating contests in early June. He rejected arguments that the extended contest was hurting the party's chances of defeating McCain, saying millions of new Democratic voters have been registered and turnout has been at record levels in the primary contests.
“We believe that this campaign has been fabulous for the Democratic Party. We've energized this party. …,'' Wolfson said. “At the conclusion of the process, we're going to direct that passion behind one nominee against John McCain.''
But former Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards said in a taped interview broadcast Sunday on CBS television's “Face the Nation'' cautioned that in Clinton's continued push for the nomination, she “has to be really careful that she's not damaging our prospects, the Democratic Party, and our cause'' in the November election.
In all, Obama added five superdelegates late Friday and Saturday. Obama added superdelegates from Utah, Ohio, and Arizona as well as two from the Virgin Islands who had previously backed Clinton. Clinton added one in Massachusetts, but lost the two in the Virgin Islands.
Associated Press writers Matt Apuzo in Huntington, West Virginia, and Charles Babington in Bend, Oregon, contributed to this report.