SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Hillary Rodham Clinton won a lopsided, but largely symbolic victory Sunday in Puerto Rico's presidential primary, the final act in a weekend of tumult that pushed Barack Obama tantalizingly close to the US Democratic presidential nomination.
The former first lady was winning roughly two-thirds of the votes.
In defeat, Obama was on track to gain at least 14 delegates, bringing him within 50 of the 2,118 needed for the nomination.
US Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., chats with supporters at the Kaslata Bakery in San Juan, as she campaigns on primary day in Puerto Rico, Sunday, June 1, 2008. [Agencies]
Aides predicted he could clinch the nomination as early as this week, when Montana and South Dakota close out the primary season, and he said he was confident the party would unite for the fall campaign.
"First of all, Senator Clinton is an outstanding public servant, she has worked tirelessly during this campaign ... and she is going to be a great asset when we go into November," he told an audience in Mitchell, S.D. "Whatever differences Senator Clinton and I may have, those differences pale in comparison to the other side."
Obama's confidence in the outcome of the historic battle for the nomination reflected the outcome of Saturday's meeting of the Democratic Party's rules and bylaws committee. Before an audience that jeered and cheered by turns, the panel voted to seat disputed delegations from Michigan and Florida, but give each delegate only one-half vote rather than the full vote sought by the Clinton campaign.
While the decision narrowed the gap between Clinton and Obama, it also erased the former first lady's last, best chance to change the course of the campaign.
With 57 percent of the precincts reporting, the Puerto Rico vote count showed Clinton with 131,304 votes, or 68 percent, to Obama's 61,614 votes, or 32 percent.
A telephone poll of likely Puerto Rican voters taken in the days leading up to the primary showed an electorate sympathetic to Clinton -- heavily Hispanic, as well as lower income and more than 50 percent female. About one-half also described themselves as conservative.
Nearly three-quarters of all those interviewed said they had a favorable view of Clinton, compared to 53 percent for Obama. One-third said they didn't know enough about Obama to form an impression.
The survey was conducted Tuesday through Saturday by Princeton Survey Research Associates International. It included 1,587 likely voters with a candidate preference; sampling error was plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
|A child holds a poster in support of US Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton during a campaign rally through Bayamon, Puerto Rico, May 31, 2008. [Agencies]
Obama had a total of 2,068 delegates, including at least 14 from Puerto Rico. He also gained the support of two superdelegates during the day.
Clinton has 1,891.5, including at least 28 from Puerto Rico, with another 13 yet to be allocated from the day's primary.
There are 31 delegates combined at stake in Montana and South Dakota on Tuesday, and Obama's high command sounded confident that enough superdelegates were poised to quickly climb on and deliver him the nomination.
There have been numerous statements by party leaders in recent days indicating they favor a quick end to the presidential race so the party can begin unifying for the fall race against John McCain, the Arizona senator who wrapped up the Republican nomination months ago.