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Clinton campaign aide Ickes stays optimistic

At a Monitor breakfast, Harold Ickes defended Clinton's presidential prospects but also hinted she will make a decision after March 4.

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WASHINGTON - In a vigorous defense of Hillary Rodham Clinton's prospects as a presidential candidate, campaign adviser Harold Ickes sought to halt what he calls the "rush to judgment" to end the Democratic nomination race in favor of Barack Obama.

Mr. Ickes's evidence: There are still 16 states and territories that have not held their nominating contests. There remain 981 pledged delegates that have yet to be selected, which is 48 percent of the 2,025 needed to secure the nomination. And of the delegates secured so far, the two senators are separated by only 2 percent of the total needed.

No one doubts that next Tuesday's primaries in Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island, and Vermont are critical, particularly the first two, delegate-rich states. But Ickes sought to soft-pedal what most analysts view as the make-or-break nature of those contests.

Clinton is still slightly ahead in Ohio and Texas, but has been losing altitude.

"My view is based on our best judgment at this point, that she will close the gap as a result of those four states on the fourth, but she will still be running behind," said Ickes Monday at a Monitor breakfast.

Later, he dropped a hint that March 4 will produce a decision point. "I think if we lose in Texas and Ohio, Mrs. Clinton will have to make her decisions as to whether she moves forward or not," he said. He paused, then added: "as she has at the end of every other state."

Still, Ickes was optimistic going forward in a primary season with three months still to go. "We are confident as we look down the road," he said. "There has been a string of losses. We'd rather win elections than lose them. But there have been a string of losses. As in life … there are a lot of cycles in politics. We think we are on the verge of our next up cycle."

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