Hillary Clinton in Sheperdstown, W.V.

WASHINGTON (WOMENSENEWS)–After a walloping victory in Tuesday’s presidential primary in West Virginia, Hillary Clinton vowed to press on for at least a few more weeks.

As news reports showed Clinton carrying West Virginia by a 2-to-1 margin, Clinton said she plans to stay in the race at least through the final Democratic primaries in Montana and South Dakota on June 3.

“I am more determined than ever to carry on this campaign until everyone has had a chance to make their voices heard,” Clinton told supporters at an election-night rally in Charleston. At 10 p.m., she had 65 percent of the vote, according to CNN; Obama had 28 percent.

Democratic Party elders ranging from the Rev. Al Sharpton to Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy have called on Clinton to bow out of the race and clear the path to the Democratic Party’s nomination for her rival, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

Even Democratic strategist James Carville, a former aide to Bill Clinton and vocal backer of Hillary Clinton, conceded on Monday that Obama would likely prevail.

“I’m for Senator Clinton, but I think the great likelihood is that Obama will be the nominee,” he said, according to The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C.

Bone of Contention

Among women’s rights activists the bow-out pressure on women is a major bone of contention.

“Here we are in the fourth quarter of the nominating process and the game is too close to call,” Ellen Malcolm, president of EMILY’s List, a political action committee that backs pro-choice Democratic female candidates, wrote in a May 10 article in the Washington Post. “Once again, the opponents and the media are calling for Hillary to quit. The first woman ever to win a presidential primary is supposed to stop competing, to curtsy and exit stage right. Why on earth should one candidate quit before the contest is finished?”

From beyond the Democratic primary battle lines comes Linda Pilkington, a Republican who owns City Castles, an online greeting card business in suburban Denver. She wrote Democratic organizations to urge them to support Clinton’s continued candidacy.

“I’ve never been a fan of hers, but I have really admired her fight and her grit, and it’s something women have shown for centuries,” she said in a telephone interview. “Every woman in America, whether Democrat or Republican, should be incensed, and e-mail Democrat leaders, to complain that Democrats are encouraging Hillary Clinton to drop from the primary race.”

On Monday, the eve of Tuesday’s primary, Obama took the lead in superdelegates, those delegates free to back the candidate of their choice regardless of the outcome of nominating contests. At 10 p.m. on Tuesday, Obama had 282 superdelegates, while Clinton had 273, according to CNN.

Obama Leads

Obama also leads in pledged delegates–those required to follow the results of state nominating contests. On Tuesday night, he had 1,595 to Clinton’s 1,439.

Obama currently is less than 200 delegates short of the 2,025 needed to clinch the party’s nod. He has won the popular vote and has won more states during this election cycle.

Pundits say it is nearly impossible for Clinton to overcome Obama in the delegate count in the remaining five Democratic primaries. So her campaign is now basing its long-shot hopes on the possibility that the Democratic National Committee will decide to count delegates from the states of Michigan and Florida, where Clinton won.

Those states have been disqualified because state parties violated national party rules when scheduling their primaries. It is unclear whether delegates from those two states will be able to vote at the convention. The Democratic National Committee will consider the matter at a meeting in Washington, D.C., on May 31.

Ellen Bravo, an Obama supporter who is former director of 9to5, the National Association of Working Women, an advocacy group in Milwaukee, said after the April 22 Pennsylvania primary she admired Clinton’s grit but is concerned that the protracted battle may undermine Obama’s chances for victory in the general election.

“We all have to agree there’s only one goal and that’s to defeat McCain,” she said, referring to Arizona Sen. John McCain, the GOP’s presumptive nominee. “And anything her campaign does to provide fodder for McCain I think is very worrisome.”

Whatever her decision, political observers say female Democratic candidates this primary season have benefited from the high-voltage election year energy that Clinton has helped stir up, which has drawn record numbers of voters to the polls.

Helping Female Hopefuls

Women in particular have cast ballots in high numbers, which has helped female political hopefuls up and down the ticket, said R. Scott Crichlow, a professor of political science at West Virginia University in Morgantown.

Recent examples include gubernatorial candidates Jill Long Thompson in Indiana, a former Democratic member of Congress, and Beverly Perdue, North Carolina’s Democratic lieutenant governor. Both prevailed in Democratic primaries last Tuesday, when women made up more than 55 percent of the electorate.

In West Virginia, Democrat Anne Barth–who was poised Tuesday night to become the party’s candidate to represent the 2nd congressional district–may be the latest example of the favorable effect of the ongoing nomination battle. She was ahead in the ballot count on Tuesday night.

Women were 51 percent of the electorate in West Virginia, and 71 percent of them backed Clinton, according to exit polls posted on CNN.

Barth, a former aide to Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd, will go on to face four-term GOP Rep. Shelley Moore Capito in what will be a high-profile race featuring two strong female candidates in a competitive congressional district.

Capito, the daughter of former West Virginia Gov. Arch A Moore Jr., is popular in the state’s 2nd district, a narrow slice of land stretching from Charleston in the southeastern part of the state to Martinsburg in the northeastern panhandle. After eking out a win in her first race in 2000, Capito has since won re-election easily, capturing more than 57 percent of the vote in three consecutive races.

Political analyst Charlie Cook, author of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, a journal that tracks congressional elections, gives Capito the edge.

But Democrats have been mobilizing in a historic election year pitting the first viable female and black candidate against each other.

Barth also has the vocal backing of Byrd, a beloved nine-term senator known for directing federal dollars to his home state and giving voice to some of the strongest anti-war views in Congress.

“By electing Anne Barth, West Virginians will have a stronger voice in the halls of Congress,” Byrd said at a March 28 fundraiser for Barth in Charleston. “Anne will never be content to sit on the back bench and tolerate policies that hurt the people of West Virginia.”

Barth also can count on financial help from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which considers the race a top opportunity to oust a sitting Republican.

Other West Virginian women, such as Democratic Secretary of State candidate Natalie Tennant, and Margaret Workman, a candidate for the state Supreme Court, appeared headed to victory on Tuesday night, according to early tallies published by the Charleston Gazette.

Remaining Democratic female political hopefuls could benefit from Clinton’s continued candidacy.

These include Democrat Heather Ryan, who is running for Congress in Kentucky’s May 20 primary. On May 20, Oregon Democrats Sabrina Shrake and Nancy Moran are running for Congress, and two women–Kate Brown and Vicki Walker–are battling each other for secretary of state.

And on June 3, the final day of the presidential primaries, South Dakota Democrat Stephanie Herseth is running for re-election to her House seat and a handful of Democratic women are running for statewide office in Montana.

Allison Stevens is Washington bureau chief at Women’s eNews.

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