WASHINGTON—Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nominating contest in Puerto Rico Sunday, but still badly trails front-runner Barack Obama as he draws closer to clinching the party's presidential nomination.
Clinton's win in Puerto Rico, a territory where residents are not allowed to vote in the November election, gave her more fuel for her argument that she has won more popular votes and is the best Democrat to face Republican John McCain.
But the results pushed Obama closer to the magic number of 2,118 delegates needed to become the nominee, and the Illinois senator already has turned his attention to a general election fight with McCain.
Two contests Tuesday in Montana and South Dakota, with 31 pledged delegates to the August nominating convention at stake, conclude the voting in the Democratic presidential race.
Clinton had campaigned heavily in Puerto Rico, a Caribbean island with 55 delegates at stake Sunday. Obama visited there for one day last week.
With a portion of the Puerto Rico delegates allocated, Obama is about 50 delegates shy of securing the nomination. He probably will be short Tuesday, but could reach the total quickly with help from some of the approximately 180 uncommitted superdelegates—party officials who can back any candidate.
Obama picked up endorsements from at least two more superdelegates Sunday.
With barely more than one-quarter of the vote counted, Clinton led Obama by 2-to-1. Obama, who called Clinton to congratulate her, looked past the New York senator to focus on her role in his general-election race against McCain.
"Senator Clinton is an outstanding public servant. She is going to be a great asset when we go into November to make sure that we can defeat the Republicans," Obama said at a rally in Mitchell, South Dakota.
Obama cleared a significant hurdle Saturday when a party committee decided to seat the disputed Michigan and Florida convention delegations at half-strength.
The decision was a victory for Obama, preventing Clinton from significantly cutting his delegate lead. Clinton had won both disputed contests—which were not sanctioned by the national party because of a dispute over their timing—and demanded the delegations be seated at full voting strength.
"Now that Michigan and Florida have been added, we are getting close to the number that will give us the nomination," Obama said Saturday in South Dakota after the rules committee meeting.
"And if we've hit that number on Tuesday night we will announce that, and I think even if we don't, this is the end of the primary season," he said.
Once the long primary season ends Tuesday after five months of state-by-state nominating contests, the Obama camp expects the superdelegates to quickly line up behind him and end the campaign.
The Clinton campaign said it planned to continue the fight, possibly all the way to the national convention in Denver, and try to woo superdelegates on the claim that she won more primary votes and was beating McCain in states Democrats need to win.
"This race goes on until someone meets the magic number to be the nominee of the Democratic Party," Clinton campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe said on ABC's "This Week."
Clinton argues she has won more popular votes in the lengthy nominating fight if Michigan, where Obama was not on the ballot, and Florida are counted and all the caucus states won by Obama are not. That shows she would be a better candidate in November, she says.
A big win in Puerto Rico, where votes were just being counted, could put her over the top in the popular vote even if estimated caucus results are included.
But popular votes do not determine the party's nominee, who is selected by delegates at the convention. Obama's lead in delegates is unassailable unless she wins nearly all the remaining uncommitted superdelegates.
Obama plans a victory celebration after the South Dakota and Montana polls close Tuesday night at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota—the site of the Republican convention in September.
He has increasingly turned his attention to the race against McCain, an Arizona senator, and expects to focus exclusively on the general election after the final two contests.