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Superdelegates await Clinton's next move

  • Story Highlights
  • Congressional superdelegates discuss their sentiments on the race
  • CNN delegate estimate: Obama 1,845, Clinton 1,686
  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Clinton backer, says there are "negative dividends" for party
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The drawn out Democratic presidential race is producing "negative dividends in terms of strife within the party," said a key Senate supporter of Sen. Hillary Clinton's White House bid.

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Sen. Hillary Clinton campaigns in San Jose, California, with Sen. Dianne Feinstein in February.

A day after the Indiana and North Carolina primaries bolstered Sen. Barack Obama's candidacy, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California and a superdelegate, said she wants to talk to Clinton to "see what her view is on the rest of the race. What the strategy is."

Feinstein, who described herself as "very loyal" to Clinton, said "the question comes whether she can get the delegates that she needs and I'd like to know what the strategy is to do that."

Superdelegates -- made up of governors, senators, House members and various other party officials or members -- are also known as unpledged delegates. They are free to choose the candidate they like, while pledged delegates are assigned in primaries and caucuses. Video Watch why superdelegates are feeling the heat »

Obama and Clinton are running such a tight race that after millions of votes and months of campaigning, neither candidate is expected to have the 2,025 delegates needed to seal the nomination before the August convention, and the superdelegates could send a candidate over the top.

Many superdelegates pledge allegiance to a candidate well before the party convention, but they can change their minds.

Feinstein predicted her party will unify in order to defeat presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona. But she said there is "an emotional component in all of this. Just as I feel loyal to Sen. Clinton, others feel loyal to Sen. Obama and we're in the same party and it makes it very difficult. So I think we want to minimize that as much as we can."

Feinstein said she called Clinton two days ago but hasn't yet heard back from the New York senator.

Another prominent Democrat on Capitol Hill said Wednesday that some of his superdelegate colleagues feel the burden of deciding a presidential candidate has shifted toward them.

Rep John Lewis, D-Georgia, who originally supported Clinton but later threw his support to Obama, said "there are quite a few people who are having what I call an 'executive session' with themselves. People see the end is near."

Asked if members are now ready to publicly come out for a candidate, Lewis said "individual members of Congress are contemplating doing something like that I think within the next few days."

After Tuesday's contests in North Carolina and Indiana, there were 276 superdelegates who had not committed -- with only 237 pledged delegates up for grabs in the remaining six contests. Obama, from Illinois, won in North Carolina by a large margin, while Clinton narrowly won in Indiana.

According to the latest CNN estimate, Obama has 1,845 total delegates to Clinton's 1,686.

Obama's campaign announced four new superdelegates for the Illinois senator on Wednesday, compared with one for Clinton.

The prevailing sentiments from Congressional Democrats, meanwhile, came out Wednesday -- with some questioning Clinton's chances and others waiting to see the primaries run their course.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, a Clinton supporter, said the campaign is "certainly making decisions on how to proceed," but the primary results were "a mixed bag."

Also on Wednesday, former North Dakota Sen. George McGovern -- who had supported Clinton -- called on her to drop out of the race. He said he's supporting Obama.

"It certainly was not out of any less respect for Sen. Clinton," McGovern said. "I think she has waged a really courageous and valiant campaign. ... But I think mathematically the race is all but won by Barack Obama and the time has come for all of us to unite and get ready for the general election in the fall."

After North Carolina's primary, three previously undecided superdelegates endorsed Obama: North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Meek, North Carolina DNC member Jeanette Council and California DNC member Inola Henry.

Rep. Brad Miller, who represents the 13th Congressional District in North Carolina, said he will announce who he's supporting soon.

"I'm going to let the dust settle for a few days," he said.

Rep. Brad Ellsworth, a Democrat who represents Indiana's 8th District, has said he's inclined to vote the way his district voted -- and it voted overwhelmingly for Clinton.

Ellsworth said he didn't see any point in making an official endorsement.

Obama's Senate superdelegate supporters said Wednesday the results were clear.

"Ultimately there is going to be a winner and last night moved Sen. Obama closer to that position," said Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota. "Sen. Clinton is a good politician. I think she understands what happened last night."

"The outcome is very clear for the Democratic nomination. It's effectively Barack Obama's nomination. It's pretty effectively sewed up and I don't see any possibility of altering or changing that inevitable fact," said Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Massachusetts. "I think the superdelegates will move strongly in his direction. I imagine he'll be in the process of bringing the party together."

Some of the undecided senators, meanwhile, say it's important to wait and see.

Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colorado, has remained undecided, and said Wednesday the two contenders need to "make some decisions among themselves relative to the data points and dynamics they see in the race. And there is still a ways to go."

"I think if we get this thing settled in the first 10 days of June we'll be fine," he added.

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Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-New Jersey, said he wants to "wait a little more time" before announcing his endorsement -- but said there is some hope for Clinton.

"The hill's gotten steeper, there's no question about that, but by no means is she out of the race. We see in her determination and I think there are numbers that say there is still a chance."

CNN's Ted Barrett, Deirdre Walsh and Ed Hornick contributed to this report.

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