In the end, superdelegates decide it all

Hillary Clinton, buoyed by her win in the Pennsylvania primary, piled pressure on top Democratic Party officials who hold the key to her gripping White House feud with Barack Obama.

The “superdelegates” who can vote how they like at the party’s August convention came under a glaring spotlight after Clinton defied Obama’s latest bid to bundle her out of the contest with a 10-point triumph in Tuesday’s vote.

Though Clinton trails Obama by every metric in the race, the result gave the former first lady more time to raise doubts among party members that her rival cannot win the general election in November against Republican John McCain.

“The delegates, all of them, have to make up their minds as to who is the stronger candidate. I believe in the last month I’ve demonstrated a real strength,” the New York senator told NBC news.

“At the end of the day, people have to decide who they think would be not only the best president, which is the most important question, but who would be the better candidate against Senator McCain,” Clinton said.

The nearly 800 superdelegates, members of Congress, governors, and other party luminaries, are now crucial, because it is all but impossible for either candidate to reach the threshold of 2,025 pledged delegates needed for victory.

But Obama’s campaign manager David Plouffe pointed out that his boss still led the race in every category, in pledged delegates, the popular vote, and total nominating contests, with only nine showdowns still to come.

“We do not believe that the structure of the race is going to change fundamentally,” he said.

Clinton’s Pennsylvania victory also unleashed an avalanche of fundraising to replenish her severely depleted campaign war chest, which is vastly overpowered by Obama’s multi-million-dollar financing operation.

Aides said they were on track to raise 10 million dollars in the first 24 hours since the primary.

“Senator Clinton’s game-changing victory last night has turned the tide and resulted in an historic outpouring of grassroots support,” said her campaign chairman, Terry McAuliffe.

The Clinton campaign Wednesday assembled heavy hitting supporters from big states including Ohio and Michigan, which form the core of a Democratic presidential election strategy, to argue only she could beat McCain.

“It’s clear that Senator Clinton is the best standard bearer for us in the fall, and superdelegates need to take a deep breath and think about that,” said Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, who masterminded her victory in his state.

The Obama team meanwhile touted the support of its own new superdelegate, Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry, in an apparent signal to other prominent members of the party that it was time to commit to the Illinois senator.

Plouffe pointed out that since the Super Tuesday nationwide primary on February 5, Obama had dominated superdelegate endorsements.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, an Obama supporter, said on CNN that he had spoken to several superdelegates and “the trend is still in his favor, despite Senator Clinton’s very, very credible victory in Pennsylvania.”

An independent count by showed that Obama led Clinton by 1,721 total delegates to 1,590. Obama had the declared support of 236 superdelegates to Clinton’s 259.

Latest results from the primary, with less than one percent of precincts to report, showed Clinton beating Obama 55 to 45 percent. Most experts predicted before voting that she needed a double digit win to change the dynamic.

Both contenders immediately narrowed in on the next pivotal contest in their protracted struggle, Indiana, which along with North Carolina goes to the polls on May 6.

The two rivals held rallies in the midwestern state before returning to Washington for a vote on equal pay in the US Senate, where their presence was not enough to stop the Republicans from blocking a proposed Democratic bill.