Battle for Delegates Continues

Mitt Romney's endorsement of John McCain means more delegates for the Republican candidate. Meanwhile, the Democratic race may be decided by superdelegates. Renee Montagne talks about the two races with NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson and political editor Ken Rudin.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And the battle for votes in Wisconsin is matched by an equally fierce battle for delegates around the country. Senators Obama and Clinton continue to compete to be the first to reach the magic number of 2,025 delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination. On the Republican side, frontrunner John McCain has a big lead in the delegate count, and he picked up a major endorsement yesterday from a former rival, Mitt Romney.

Joining us with their calculators are NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson and political editor Ken Rudin. Good morning.

MARA LIASSON: Good morning, Renee.

KEN RUDIN: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Okay. Calculators in hand, Mara, let's start with you. Now Romney's endorsement is one that really counts for something because it actually comes with delegates, right?

LIASSON: It could count for 280 more of them actually. He, Romney, has asked all of his delegates who are not barred by state party rules to swing their support to John McCain, who now has 843 delegates. He needs 1191, so he's pretty close. Now the day before, McCain got the endorsement of the entire House of Representatives Republican Leadership. So he really is consolidating the support of the establishment of the Republican Party. Of course, he's still working on building support and enthusiasm among the rank-and-file conservative Republican voters.

MONTAGNE: But turning to you, Ken, the race, officially at least, is continuing; Mike Huckabee is staying in.

RUDIN: Well, as he should, and actually Ron Paul, the Congressman from Texas is there too. Social conservatives have made it clear that they have reservations about John McCain, and I think before John McCain could start wooing the Democrats and the Independents he needs to win the fall, he has to have the party united behind him and I think if nothing else, the Mike Huckabee challenge in the upcoming primaries gives McCain the opportunity to make that case to the conservatives.

MONTAGNE: And on the Democratic side, Barack Obama has a winning streak going, but the delegate count is so close it looks as if neither of those candidates based on the number of delegates won will actually have enough for the nomination. So what are we talking here, superdelegates?

RUDIN: Well, I guess, you know, that that's what a lot of political junkies would love to see, a deadlock convention, but a lot of Democrats are nervous about that. And these superdelegates, there is 796 of them. These are the party-elected - party elected officials who can vote for whoever candidate they prefer without the depended - regardless of how the states went in the primaries and they can decide who the frontrunner is and who has the momentum. John Lewis, a Congressman from Georgia, is an early supporter of Hillary Clinton. He indicated yesterday that he could be amenable to switching to Obama. And of course, if that starts to happen, if there was a wave going the other way, that could decide the Democratic nomination.

MONTAGNE: And Mara, Clinton is still looking though at major states like Ohio and Texas next month to get her back in the thick of things and really working hard to make that happen.

LIASSON: Oh yeah. These are two big states, lots of delegates, they've got the kinds of voters that have been reliable for her in the past. A lot of Latino voters in Texas, could be up to 40 percent of the Democratic primary there. In Ohio, you've got working class, white voters, older white women, she still has leads in the polls in both states, but she's got to not just win both of those states, but she has to win them by big enough margins to get enough delegates to get back into the lead. And the big question for those states is will Barack Obama continue to make the inroads into those demographic groups that have been good for Clinton that he started to do on Tuesday in the Potomac Primaries. So that's what we're looking for.

MONTAGNE: Right. That's because with the Democrats the delegates are split, and so she can actually win the states and not really take over the line.

LIASSON: That's right. If she doesn't win by a big enough margin, she might not get the delegates she needs to vault back into the lead and to stop what Ken was talking about, the superdelegates from starting to surge in his direction.

MONTAGNE: And Ken?

RUDIN: Well, yeah, exactly. Right now if you look at the numbers that they have - Obama and Clinton have about 1200 each despite the fact that Obama's on a winning streak, it's actually a clear, but strong battle for the nomination and we will see what happens on March 4th.

MONTAGNE: Well, thanks both of you. We'll be talking to you soon enough. Mara Liasson, political correspondent, Political Editor Ken Rudin, and with Ken Rudin you can read his political junkie column at npr.org.

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