Democrat Barack Obama expanded his fragile lead in delegates over rival Hillary Rodham Clinton on Saturday, picking up at least seven delegates as Iowa activists took the next step in picking delegates to the national convention. ( AP )
Half the 14 delegates allocated to John Edwards on the basis of caucus night projections switched Saturday and Obama got most, if not all, of them.
Iowa Democratic Party officials said that with more than 86 percent of the delegates picked, Obama claimed 52 percent of the delegates elected at county conventions on Saturday, compared to 32 percent for Clinton. About 16 percent of the delegates picked at Saturday's conventions were sticking with Edwards, even though he's dropped from the race since Iowa held its caucuses in January.
Democratic Party projections said the results mean Obama increased by seven the number of delegates he collects from the state, getting a total of 23 compared to 14 for Clinton and seven for Edwards, with one to be decided.
Twelve automatic delegates bring the state's total to 57. Obama has been endorsed by four of those and Clinton three, with the remainder uncommitted.
Counting Iowa's results Saturday, an Associated Press delegate tally showed Obama with 1,610 delegates and Clinton with 1,496.
Obama won the state's precinct caucuses in January with 39 percent of the vote, with Edwards narrowly edging Clinton to finish second. Projections on caucus night showed Obama getting 16 delegates, compared to 15 for Clinton and 14 for Edwards.
"It means the Obama people are very organized," said Iowa Democratic Chairman Scott Brennan. "They have been working very hard for these conventions."
Brennan said turnout was heavy, with more than 13,000 activists showing up at conventions in the state's 99 counties.
"Today, Iowa Democrats again turned out in large numbers to reject the failed Bush-McCain campaign and its policies," said Brennan.
Edwards finished second in the state's leadoff precinct caucuses on Jan. 3, but those caucuses are only the first step in a complicated process of picking the state's 45 pledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August.
The next step in that process was Saturday with selection of delegates to congressional district and state conventions. Party officials said the results Saturday marked the election of 2,173 of the 2,500 delegates who will go to those convention.
The epic presidential race between Clinton and Obama has been reshaped since Iowa's caucuses, but is no less intense with every delegate carrying weight.
"Every single one counts and that's why we've been here organizing," said Teresa Vilmain, a field organizer for Clinton.
"We've filled all of our slots," said Gordon Fischer, a former Iowa Democratic chairman who is organizing for Obama.
Rob Tully, a Des Moines lawyer and prominent Edwards backer, sent an e-mail to supporters urging them to remain neutral, but there was clear movement to Obama when the results were tallied.
"Barack Obama stands for a lot of the same things that John Edwards stood for," said Ro Foege, a state legislator from Mount Vernon who switched to the Obama camp.
The county conventions are traditionally sleepy gatherings where party leaders have trouble gathering a quorum to conduct business, largely because the party usually has a nominee by this point. With the race still up for grabs, activists jammed school gymnasiums, auditoriums and meeting halls across the state.
Former Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Clinton backer, spoke to more than 1,200 delegates jammed into a suburban high school gym.
"The reality is we are united on one thing today, we are Democrats, we are proud Democrats and we are going to elect a Democratic president," said Vilsack, who dropped his own bid for the nomination even before the voting began. "Let us pledge that we will unite behind our nominee - be it he or she."