- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2008

DES MOINES, Iowa — Democratic Sen. Barack Obama expanded his fragile lead in delegates over rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday, picking up about seven delegates as Iowa activists took the next step in picking delegates to the national convention.

Iowa Democratic Party officials said that with more than 86 percent of the delegates picked, Mr. Obama claimed 52 percent of the delegates elected at county conventions yesterday, compared with 32 percent for Mrs. Clinton.

About 16 percent of the delegates picked at conventions yesterday were sticking with John Edwards, even though the former senator from North Carolina dropped out of the race since Iowa held its caucuses in January.

“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.

Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Scott Brennan said turnout was heavy, with more than 13,000 activists showing up at conventions in the state’s 99 counties.

Democratic Party projections said the results mean Mr. Obama increased by seven the number of delegates he collects from the state, getting a total of 23 compared with 14 for Mrs. Clinton and seven for Mr. Edwards, with one to be decided.

Also yesterday, California’s Democratic Party completed the delegate counts from its Feb. 5 primary. Mrs. Clinton picked up two more pledged delegates, raising her state total to 204; Mr. Obama gained five, raising his figure to 166.

Counting the new figures from yesterday in Iowa and California, an Associated Press delegate tally showed Mr. Obama with 1,615 delegates and Mrs. Clinton with 1,498.

The Jan. 3 precinct caucuses are only the first step in a complicated process of picking Iowa’s 45 pledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention. The next step in that process was the selection yesterday of delegates to congressional district and state conventions.

The county conventions traditionally are sleepy gatherings largely because the party usually has a nominee by now. 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 going to elect a Democratic president,” Mr. Vilsack said. “Let us pledge that we will unite behind our nominee — be it he or she.”

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