WASHINGTON - Hillary Clinton supporters are gathering for what could be her last big stand today, as the Democratic Party's rules committee meets to decide how to resolve a dispute over Florida's and Michigan's 368 delegates to the Democratic National Convention.
With only three primaries remaining, in Puerto Rico tomorrow and Montana and South Dakota on Tuesday, this morning's meeting could be Mrs. Clinton's final major effort to overtake Mr. Obama. She needs a big victory from the 30-member panel, which is expected to meet all day, and her supporters plan a rally to help press her case.
However, she is coming under growing pressure from Democratic Party leaders and elected officials to quit the race, while some of her own supporters seem reluctant to rally behind her strategy for salvaging her presidential ambitions.
Intervening in the primary fight, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (R., Nev.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D. Calif.) are sending public and private messages to super delegates urging them to make a choice once voting ends Tuesday.
The push, which began this week, is damaging to Mrs. Clinton, whose fading candidacy would be best served by prolonging the contest. The party's leadership seems more intent on bringing the protracted nomination fight to an end so Democrats can pivot to the general election match-up with John McCain, who has been the presumed Republican nominee for months.
"We're going to urge folks to make a decision quickly - next week," Mr. Reid said in an interview with a radio program in his state of Nevada. "We agree there won't be a fight at the convention."
Ms. Pelosi told her hometown newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, that if the nomination fight is not settled by the end of June, "I will step in" to resolve it.
The two top elected Democrats have been conferring with the party's chief, Howard Dean, about how to close out the five-month nomination fight.
With her options running out, Mrs. Clinton is hoping to revive her candidacy with today's rules committee meeting over whether to seat the delegates from the Florida and Michigan primaries.
The process confronting the rules committee are complex, but it boils down to this:
Mr. Obama now has 1,984 delegates, and Mrs. Clinton has 1,782. Currently, a total of 2,026 is needed to win, but that number will change depending on how many Florida and Michigan delegates are seated.
The committee will grapple with two issues today. One is whether to seat the two delegations at all. Michigan and Florida held their primaries in January, defying party rules, and were stripped of all their 368 convention delegates.
A memo from party legal advisers this week said the committee could seat no more than half the delegations - keeping out the rest would be the states' punishment.
The committee also is expected to deal with the question of who gets whatever delegates are seated. In Michigan, Mr. Obama and virtually every other major contender - except Mrs. Clinton - took their names off the ballot. Mrs. Clinton won Michigan with 55 percent of the vote. "Uncommitted" got 40 percent, a vote widely seen as a vote for Mr. Obama.
Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton pledged not to campaign in Florida, where Mrs. Clinton took 50 percent, Mr. Obama 33 percent, and 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards, who has since endorsed Mr. Obama, got 14 percent.
Florida Democrats are pushing a plan to split the delegation's votes 50-50 between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama.
Michigan's case is more complicated. Mrs. Clinton argues that the full delegation should be seated and she should get 73 delegates, "uncommitted" 55, and Mr. Obama none.
Signals, however, suggest that she's unlikely to prevail.
A four-member group of state Democratic bigwigs, including Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, is pushing a plan to give Mrs. Clinton 69 delegates and Mr. Obama 59, and people who serve on the Rules and Bylaws Committee generally aren't rabid partisans. They tend to be insiders who want the party to prosper - hardly the kind of politicians who are likely to tie the institution in procedural knots that could jeopardize its chances of winning in November.
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