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OLD CLINTON TIES AND VOTE TALLIES TUG AT SUPERDELEGATES

The dwindling group of elected officials and party leaders publicly undecided in the Democratic presidential contest - about 300 out of the 796 so-called superdelegates who may determine the party's nominee - includes at least 30 who have a long and often personal history with the Clinton family.

But more than 100 of them are from states whose voters have spoken in primaries and caucuses and voted, often overwhelmingly, for Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.

Even at a time when Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York is struggling to hold on to the superdelegates she has, both candidates view the remaining 300 delegates who have not taken sides as likely the most crucial audience they are competing for in the months ahead. The campaigns provided an internal list of their superdelegate supporters to the New York Times, providing a basis for drawing a portrait of an electorate - particularly, the remaining undecided superdelegates - that in many ways marks the final contest of the nominating battle.

Based on the lists provided by the campaigns, Clinton now has 256 superdelegates and Obama 170. That does not count superdelegates from Michigan and Florida whose delegations are the focus of a dispute; the Democratic National Committee has said it would not seat delegates elected in those states because the states held their primaries early, in defiance of Democratic National Committee rules.

Superdelegates are, in most years, ceremonial positions, a way to assure elected party officials and Democratic committee members a seat at the nominating convention. But the positions have become charged with political significance this year as it has become clear neither Clinton nor Obama may have the 2,025 delegates needed to claim the nomination by the time the party's schedule of primaries and caucuses ends on June 7, meaning they will need superdelegate votes to win.

The delegates are under no obligation to vote as they say they will, and already, they are showing a willingness to change their minds, as Clinton was reminded when Rep. John Lewis of Georgia switched course and said he would vote for Obama.

Being essentially political creatures, superdelegates are more prone to factor political considerations into their deliberations than the voting public.

"The current situation is quite excruciating for them," said Harold Ickes, who is running Clinton's operation.

"On the one hand, they don't want to be with a losing campaign," Ickes said. "On the other hand, the longer they wait, the more people sign up for the winning campaign - well, the last one to sign up is not necessarily the most rewarded."

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