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Obama-Clinton Nomination Race Heads for Final Phase

The long running battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination may be in its final days. Both contenders are campaigning for delegates in the final three primaries between now and Tuesday. And both campaigns will be watching a meeting of the Democratic Party's rules committee on Saturday that will attempt to resolve a dispute over primary votes in the states of Florida and Michigan. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone reports from Washington.

Saturday's meeting at a Washington hotel represents Hillary Clinton's best hope of cutting into Barack Obama's lead in the overall delegate count before the primary season ends on June 3.

The Democratic Party Rules Committee will attempt to resolve the dispute over the primary votes in Florida and Michigan. The national party voided the results of those primaries after both states defied party rules and moved up their primaries into January, instead of holding them later in the year.

Clinton won both of those primaries, and her campaign argues the results should be recognized, which would cut into Obama's lead in the delegate count.

Obama supporters say that the results should not count because Obama took his name off the Michigan ballot before the vote, and because neither candidate campaigned in either Michigan or Florida in deference to national party rules.

After Saturday's party meeting, the focus will be on three remaining Democratic primaries. Puerto Rico votes on Sunday, while Montana and South Dakota close out the primary calendar with contests on Tuesday.

Despite her fading hopes of winning the nomination, Senator Clinton continues to argue that she would be the stronger Democrat to run against the presumptive Republican nominee, Senator John McCain.

"Who do you believe is best prepared and ready to be commander in chief and president on day one, to start making those tough decisions that our next president will have to make," she asked.

In the final weeks of the campaign, Senator Obama increasingly has shifted his attention away from Clinton, and is now focused on what he expects will be a showdown with Senator McCain.

"I am happy to have a debate with John McCain about the Bush-McCain foreign policy, because their foreign policy has not worked, and we cannot keep on doing the same thing over and over again," he said.

Clinton is favored in Sunday's vote in Puerto Rico, while Obama has an edge in the polls in Montana and South Dakota.

Democratic congressional leaders are hoping for a quick resolution of the Democratic nomination contest after Tuesday's primaries. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority leader Harry Reid are urging the remaining uncommitted superdelegates to publicly support one of the candidates once the primary season ends.

"I think the time has come to end this," he said.

Superdelegates are party officeholders and activists who can vote for either candidate. Political experts expect most of the remaining superdelegates will rally to Obama after Tuesday's voting, setting the stage for the Illinois senator to clinch the nomination.

John Fortier, who monitors U.S. politics at the American Enterprise Institute, told VOA's Encounter program that Obama's march to the nomination appears to be on track, even though Clinton may win a few more delegates in the remaining primaries.

"Overall, it is a small claim that she can make, and Barack Obama, with those delegates he will win plus the march of the superdelegates, slowly, day by day, into his column, ultimately will be building a lead, and will get to one of the various magic numbers we have for the nomination," he said.

Once he secures the Democratic nomination, Senator Obama would then have the challenge of unifying the Democratic Party and winning over Clinton supporters in time for the party's national nominating convention in late August.