Party Pact Deals Blow To Clinton

WASHINGTON -- Front-runner Barack Obama turned to wrapping up the Democratic presidential nomination after a party committee dealt rival Hillary Clinton a blow by seating the disputed Michigan and Florida convention delegations at half-strength.

At a raucous all-day meeting of the party's rules panel, the panel agreed on Saturday to seat the delegations from both states but cut their voting power in half.

The decision in the long-running dispute was a victory for Obama, removing one of the last stumbling blocks on his march to the nomination and preventing Clinton from significantly cutting his lead in the hard-fought race.

Only three contests with 86 pledged delegates at stake remain -- Sunday in Puerto Rico and Tuesday in Montana and South Dakota -- and Obama is about 70 delegates short of the 2,118 now needed to clinch the nomination.

That means he will likely still be short of the total on Tuesday, but could reach it quickly with the help of some of the approximately 180 superdelegates -- party officials who can back any candidate -- who remain uncommitted.

"Now that Michigan and Florida have been added, we are getting close to the number that will give us the nomination," Obama said in South Dakota after the rules committee meeting.

"And if we've hit that number on Tuesday night we will announce that, and I think even if we don't, this is the end of the primary season."