WASHINGTON, June 3 (Reuters) - Barack Obama was close to
clinching the Democratic presidential nomination on Tuesday,
gaining support from a steady parade of uncommitted delegates
and pushing rival Hillary Clinton to the verge of defeat.
A dozen superdelegates -- party officials free to back any
candidate at the August nominating convention -- announced
their support for Obama, putting him within 30 delegates of the
2,118 he needs.
The Illinois senator, who would be the first black nominee
of a major U.S. political party, hopes to clinch the honor
after polls close in the final two contests in Montana and
South Dakota. Those states have 31 delegates at stake.
The Clinton campaign said she did not plan to concede to
Obama at a New York rally later on Tuesday.
"The nomination fight goes on until somebody gets the magic
number and that isn't there today and that is not at all what
Senator Clinton is going to talk about tonight," Clinton
campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe told CNN.
Voting ends in South Dakota at 7 p.m. MDT/9 p.m. EDT (0100
GMT), and in Montana an hour later, with results expected
More than 150 superdelegates remain undecided, and the
conclusion of the voting could ignite a stampede toward Obama
that would push him over the top.
But the Obama campaign has been urging superdelegates to
make their endorsement before the voting ends, so the delegates
he wins in the two states can allow him to clinch the
A group of 17 uncommitted Senate Democrats met to discuss
the timing of a potential endorsement of Obama. They will meet
again on Wednesday but are not expected to make their
announcements by Tuesday night, a Senate aide said.
"I want all the primaries to play out before I make my
final decision to endorse a Democratic Party presidential
nominee," said Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, one of the
'LEAVE CLINTON ALONE'
"Senator Clinton needs to be left alone. Let's get through
the primary process and let this week work it's course," Senate
Democratic Leader Harry Reid told reporters.
A steady flow of superdelegates made their announcements
throughout the day. Former President Jimmy Carter will endorse
Obama when the polls close, the Carter Center said.
U.S. Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, third-ranking
Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives and the
top-ranking black member of Congress, formally announced his
support and urged other superdelegates to announce their
decisions so Obama could wrap things up by day's end.
"Today the process ends," Clyburn told NBC's "Today" show.
Obama planned a victory celebration to kick off the general
election campaign against McCain after the South Dakota and
Montana polls close. He will hold it at the St. Paul, Minnesota
hockey arena that will host the Republican convention in
Clinton and her campaign have sent mixed signals over the
last two days about how long she would stay in a presidential
race that she began as a heavy favorite but now has little
chance of winning.
Campaigning in South Dakota, she said the end of the voting
marked "the beginning of a new phase of the campaign" in which
she will seek to convince superdelegates that she would be the
strongest candidate against McCain in November.
With no more campaign trips to plan, workers who handle
Clinton's advance travel arrangements have been told to go to
New York or head home until further notice, aides said.
Both Obama and Clinton will speak to a pro-Israel lobbying
group in Washington on Wednesday, and Obama said he expected to
be talking to Clinton again soon.
He said he told her in a phone conversation on Sunday that
"once the dust settled I was looking forward to meeting with
her at a time and place of her choosing."