Round 2 for Iowa delegates could shift race

Jan. 3's caucuses were only the beginning for Iowa's Democrats.

On Saturday, representatives at 99 county conventions choose 358 delegates to the state's district and state conventions.

Usually, these conventions are pro forma. But with Barack Obama narrowly ahead of Hillary Rodham Clinton in an all-out scrap for national delegates, the county conventions now have new meaning and could put one candidate on course for a greater share of Iowa's 57 delegates than projected on caucus night.

"It's like we're running the caucuses again, just with a smaller number of people," said Tom Henderson, chairman of the Polk County Democratic Party.

For the first time, candidates have hired staff to whip up turnout.

Obama, an Illinois senator, won the caucuses 2½ months ago, capturing the equivalent of 38% of Iowa's national Democratic delegates, ahead of former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards with 30% and Clinton, a New York senator, with 29%.

The Iowa Democratic caucuses stamped Obama as a national contender. The caucuses also forced Clinton to campaign as a challenger and weakened Edwards, who had been an early favorite in the caucuses and quit the race in late January.

But the delegate score in Iowa is much closer than immediate analysis of the caucuses suggested.

Obama now has 20 Iowa delegates while Clinton has 18. Those numbers account for the percentage of pledged delegates they earned on caucus night and the number of superdelegates who have endorsed them. Iowa has 11 Democratic superdelegates, a select group of elected officials and party leaders who will be seated at the Democratic National Convention in August in Denver.

Saturday marks another step in the process of determining Iowa's final delegate count, which will be decided this summer. Until then, delegates who advance in the process are not bound by decisions they make along the way.

Only Nevada Democrats have had their county conventions so far this year. Iowa's are significant in part because Edwards has more delegates here, 14, than anywhere else, a majority of the 26 he collected.

Of the three superdelegates Edwards had in Iowa, one has endorsed Obama while the others are uncommitted. David Redlawsk, Edwards' Johnson County coordinator, said he has encouraged Edwards' Johnson County delegates to remain uncommitted so that they can make a statement en masse later.

Edwards has not declared a preference for either of his former opponents since getting out of the race.

"The Obama campaign has been clearly more active in trying to reach Edwards' delegates," Redlawsk said. "Contrast all this with Clinton. I have received no local calls on behalf of Clinton."

Obama leads Clinton in the national delegate count with 1,602 to 1,497, according to the latest Associated Press tally. That includes superdelegates who have publicly declared their support.

A dramatic shift Saturday in Iowa in support of Obama or Clinton would alter the count only by a couple of national delegates at most.

"In a normal year, it wouldn't alter the landscape, but this year nuances alter the landscape," said Jean Hessburg, the former state Democratic Party director. "This is a pinpoint accuracy game now so no one wants to lose anybody."