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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Leaders in Congress Seek to Settle Soon on Nominee

By CARL HULSE

WASHINGTON — Hoping to bring their party’s presidential nomination fight to an end, the two top Democrats in Congress said they were pressing superdelegates who had yet to declare a preference in the race to make their choice public by the middle of next week.

Party officials said Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, had been contacting uncommitted superdelegates, encouraging them to prepare to go public and resolve any last question about the contest between Senators Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

“By this time next week, it will all be over, give or take a day," Mr. Reid said in a Thursday appearance at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, where he was promoting a new memoir.

Given Mr. Obama’s lead in the delegate race and potential support among the approximately 200 members of Congress and Democratic insiders who have yet to declare, the push to wind up the race works to his benefit. While Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Reid have remained publicly neutral in the nominating clash while emphasizing its potential benefits to the party, they now appear to have concluded that prolonging it much further could be detrimental.

In an interview on the San Francisco talk radio station KGO, Mr. Reid said that he had spoken with Ms. Pelosi on Thursday and that they had agreed to take steps to avoid a contest that would extend into the convention in August. “We all are going to urge our folks next week to make a decision very quickly,” said Mr. Reid, who added that “simple math” indicated that by next Tuesday Mr. Obama would have the necessary number of delegates to prevail.

Mr. Reid’s comments came after Ms. Pelosi told the editorial board of The San Francisco Chronicle on Wednesday that she would intercede if necessary, if the contest were not concluded by the end of June.

The two Congressional leaders have no formal authority over the superdelegates, but can use their strong relationships and powers of persuasion to persuade some of their colleagues to make a public choice.

Representatives of Mr. Reid and Ms. Pelosi will be on hand Saturday for the rules committee of the Democratic National Committee, when members meet to decide how the disputed delegates from the Florida and Michigan primaries should awarded.

The argument on behalf of Mr. Obama will be made by Representative Robert Wexler, Democrat of Florida, and former Representative David Bonior, Democrat of Michigan. While party officials have suggested halving the delegates allowed from each state, aides to Mr. Obama said Thursday that they would also allow Mrs. Clinton to have a greater share of those delegates than they believe she deserves, hoping to resolve the dispute.

Mr. Obama said he considered the general election campaign to formally begin after the last primaries, on Tuesday. Asked if he thought he would become the presumptive nominee then, he said, “I believe so.”

“If we’ve gotten the number of delegates needed to secure the nomination, then I’m the nominee,” Mr. Obama told reporters late Wednesday. “If we’re short of that, we’ll have more work to do, but once we achieve it, I think we’ll be the nominee.”

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