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A quiet consensus is emerging among Democratic lawmakers that Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has all but sealed up the party’s presidential nomination.
After his decisive win over Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) in North Carolina and his narrow loss in Indiana on Tuesday, Congressional Democrats aligned with both camps suggested their extended and bruising battle is drawing to a close.
But a sense of suspended animation prevailed Wednesday on Capitol Hill as lawmakers waited for the dust to settle from the latest round of contests. No one from either camp called for Clinton to quit the race, and at press time, no undeclared Congressional superdelegates — or any backing the New York Senator — lined up behind Obama.
Instead, most Democrats said they are hoping the contest has entered a new phase, in which Clinton will scale back attacks on Obama in advance of an eventual exit and to allow him to pivot toward Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the presumptive GOP nominee.
“This thing has been put to bed,” said Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), whose January endorsement of Obama, along with his father, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), was a pivotal moment in the campaign. “Reality is sinking in. And today it’s crystal clear Sen. Clinton won’t put a dent in the delegate count.”
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), a Clinton backer, echoed Kennedy’s assessment of the race for pledged delegates. He suggested that Obama should offer Clinton the vice presidential slot on the ticket. “Anything is possible in politics, but it’s improbable to suggest she’d be at the top of the ticket. Many of us are beginning to pursue victory in November, which I believe includes having her on the ticket.”
Both candidates are back on the Hill, with meetings planned to reach out to the 91 colleagues from both chambers who have yet to name a preference. Clinton was set to meet with undeclared superdelegates on Wednesday night, while Obama plans to meet with Blue Dog Democrats this morning, and, later, with those from North Carolina. Those lawmakers make up roughly a third of the superdelegates who have yet to endorse, and because neither candidate is expected to finish the primary season with enough pledged delegates to clinch the nomination, their support will be critical to ending the race.
Freshman Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), whose district in the western portion of the state favored Clinton despite the statewide result, announced his support for her on Wednesday. But a handful of superdelegates off the Hill coming out for Obama meant the Illinois Democrat had netted four superdelegates by press time.
Clinton vowed to fight on. Stumping in West Virginia, she said she would stay in the race “until there’s a nominee.”
“It’s still early,” she said.
But her Hill supporters acknowledged feeling deflated about her prospects.
“It was a pretty gloomy mood this morning,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), a Clinton supporter. “I would never tell anyone to get out of a race,” she said, but acknowledged that the odds seem slim that Clinton can catch Obama.