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Democrats dreading a drawn-out, costly battle for nomination

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi defends superdelegates in nominating process
  • NEW: Clinton raised $8 million online since Super Tuesday
  • NEW: Sen. Bill Nelson: "potential train wreck" over Florida, Michigan delegates
  • Clinton and Obama could end up short of the 2,025-delegate magic number
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From Jim Acosta
CNN
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- With Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Clinton of New York nearly splitting the delegate count in the race for the Democratic nomination, party leaders have a major dilemma on their hands: a tie ballgame heading into the convention.

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Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama could fall short of the 2,025 delegates each needs for the nomination.

"I think we're going to have a nominee by middle of March or April." Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said. "But if we don't, then we're gonna have to get the candidates together and make some kind of arrangement, because I don't think we can afford to have a brokered convention. That would not be good news for either party."

That's because unlike recent conventions, when the party tickets were firmly established, Obama and Clinton could conceivably end up short of the 2,025 delegates needed to secure the nomination.

The job of putting a candidate over the top would then fall to superdelegates -- the nearly 800 party leaders who can cast ballots for the candidate of their choice.

Asked whether she would be troubled by a brokered Democratic convention in which superdelegates would determine the party's nominee, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi defended her party's system.

"These superdelegates are all part of their state delegation, so that state will speak," Pelosi said. The superdelegates "work out their preference, working with the people of their state."

Superdelegates were established, Pelosi explained, to allow grass-roots Democratic activists to attend the nominating convention without having to compete with high-ranking Democratic party officials for a coveted spot on the convention floor.

"So, again, I don't think that members of Congress, governors and senators are not attuned to what's happening in their states and in their districts," Pelosi said.

CNN political analyst Donna Brazile railed against the scenario.

"If 795 of my colleagues decide this election, I will quit the Democratic Party. I feel very strongly about this," Brazile said.

The second fight is likely to be over seating delegates from Michigan and Florida. The Democratic Party has already voted not to seat their delegates because they held early primaries.

Clinton won both contests, and she wants those delegates seated.

On the Senate floor on Friday, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida -- a Clinton supporter -- predicted a "potential train wreck" when deciding what to do about the disputed delegates from Florida and Michigan.

He opposes Dean's suggestion to consider a new vote.

"It's a basic underpinning of our democracy and it is a basic underpinning of our constitutional right to vote and to have that vote counted," Nelson said.

"You can't undo an election with a caucus. And especially you can't undo an election where 1.7 million Florida Democrats have gone to vote in a secret ballot and replace it with a caucus that maybe 50,000 people would show up," Nelson added.

One thing is clear: The longer that Clinton and Obama go at it, the more it will cost them.

In a conference call Friday, Clinton's campaign announced she has raised $8 million online since polls closed in California on Tuesday and nearly $10 million online since February 1.

And 75,000 new donors pledged their financial support to Clinton since polls closed on Super Tuesday, according to her campaign.

On Thursday, the Illinois senator's campaign announced it had raised $7.2 million in the first 36 hours after polls closed on Super Tuesday. Video Watch as Obama gives Clinton a run for her money. »

As the two candidates battle it out money-wise, the bigger problem may be history itself.

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The record shows the more divided the party, the more likely it is to lose in November.

As Dean observed, there have been three divided Democratic conventions in recent decades -- 1968, 1972 and 1980. Democrats lost each time. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider, CNN associate political editor Rebecca Sinderbrand and CNN producer Alexander Mooney contributed to this report.

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