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Wooing superdelegates all the way to convention

  • Story Highlights
  • Democratic nominee may be chosen by superdelegates at convention
  • Superdelegates are current or former elected officeholders and party officials
  • Clinton, behind Obama in delegate count, is hoping for Texas, Ohio wins
  • Both candidates are feverishly campaigning to win superdelegates' favor
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(CNN) -- With the Democratic presidential race tied to a complex delegate system, the Clinton and Obama camps went after each other Sunday over "superdelegates."

Superdelegates -- delegates to the National Democratic Convention --are not selected based on the party primaries and caucuses in each U.S. state, but rather based solely on their status as current or former elected officeholders and party officials. They are free to choose the candidate they like.

"'Superdelegates' doesn't mean that they should leap over the will of the people in a single bound," joked Sen. Barack Obama's chief political strategist David Axelrod on CBS' "Face the Nation."

But Sen. Hillary Clinton's communications director Howard Wolfson told CBS that those approximately 800 delegates "are supposed to vote their conscience."

And Lanny Davis, a former White House special counsel supporting Clinton, told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" that Obama "very ironically wants to change the rules of the game in the middle of the game."

Obama leads in the overall delegate count and among pledged delegates, who are assigned based on primaries and caucuses. Clinton has more superdelegates supporting her, and the overall count is close. Neither is expected to have enough pledged delegates to win the nomination before the party's convention in August.

Making things even more complicated, the pledged delegate count does not directly reflect the popular vote. For example, in the Nevada caucuses, Clinton won by six points, but Obama ended up with one more delegate because of the way that state awards its delegates.

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Upcoming contests this week in Wisconsin, Washington state and Hawaii are expected to favor Obama, but the campaigns are looking to March 4, when delegate-rich Texas and Ohio hold their contests.

Clinton is aiming for those critical victories that could help her recover in both the delegate count and the fight for political momentum.

Clinton is also hoping for a win in Pennsylvania in April.

The Clinton camp is also working to shore up its support among superdelegates. News reports in recent days have indicated that some African-American superdelegates are rethinking their support for her, given the strong support for Obama among their constituents.

But Wolfson wrote off those concerns Sunday, telling reporters, "I think that all Democrats have a difficult choice in this election. We have two strong candidates with broad appeal. We feel very good about our support in the African-American community and we are quite confident that our superdelegate support is holding firm."

While divided over which candidate to support, Democrats are largely agreed that the battle over delegates needs to be resolved without a sense that superdelegates -- which include Democratic lawmakers, governors, and other VIPs -- are making a decision that opposes what voters want.

"There has to be some agreement between the Clinton and Obama campaigns as to how to handle it," New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, a prominent supporter of her campaign, said Sunday. "We need to win in November and if one side tries to shove down the throats of the other side any rule, so that that camp today or all of her or his supporters walk away upset, we will lose."

And that's not the only potential looming battle. There's also the matter of seating delegates from Michigan and Florida. The Democratic Party penalized those two states for moving their primaries early, and determined their delegates would not be seated at the convention, where the nominee is decided.

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Both states voted overwhelmingly for Clinton -- though in Michigan, her name was the only one on the ballot. In Florida, voters turned out in record numbers despite the party's decision.

If the party sticks to its plan, Democratic voters in those two key swing states may be turned off and be less likely to turn out in November. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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