Barack Obama all but erased Hillary Clinton's once-imposing lead among national convention superdelegates on Friday and won fresh labor backing as elements of the Democratic Party began coalescing around the Illinois senator for the fall campaign.
Obama picked up the backing of nine superdelegates, including Rep. Donald Payne of New Jersey, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus who had been a Clinton supporter.
In addition, the American Federation of Government Employees announced its support for Obama. The union claims about 600,000 members who work in the federal and Washington, D.C., governments.
Obama, who won a convincing victory in the North Carolina primary and lost Indiana narrowly on Tuesday, has been steadily gaining strength in the days since.
Clinton also gained two superdelegates.
The developments left the former first lady with 271.5 superdelegates, to 271 for Obama, according to an Associated Press count. Little more than four months ago, on the eve of the primary season, she held a lead of 169-63.
In the overall race for the nomination, Obama leads with 1,859.5 delegates, to 1,697 for Clinton. Obama is just 165.5 delegates short of the 2,025 delegates needed to win it.
NBC's national delegate count currently stands at 1426 for Clinton and 1590 for Obama. NBC’s estimated superdelegate count stands at 277.5 for Clinton and 269 for Obama.
[There are differences in how news organizations count delegates, how they award superdelegates, how they account for states that have held caucuses but have not yet chosen their delegates, and how they project the apportionment of delegates within Congressional districts where the vote was close. The Associated Press and NBC news conduct separate delegate counts.]
Superdelegates are party leaders who attend the convention delegates by virtue of their positions, and are not selected in primaries and caucuses.
In addition to Payne, Reps. Peter DeFazio of Oregon and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, two members of the Democratic National Committee from California and a party official in South Carolina announced they were supporting Obama. Superdelegates from New Mexico and Virginia also joined the migration.
So, too, John Gage, president of the AFGE.
"Our people, I think, recognize the enthusiasm and vitality behind Senator Obama's campaign," he said in a statement.
"The election is over, everybody knows that. Obama has won," said Vernon Watkins, one of the two Californians.
"After careful consideration, I have reached the conclusion that Barack Obama can best bring about the change that our country so desperately wants and needs," said Payne, who in a statement said that Clinton is a good friend and he still holds her in high regard.
Payne is one of at least 10 superdelegates who have switched allegiances from Clinton to Obama. None have publicly switched the other way.
Clinton's new supporter was Rep. Chris Carney, D-Pa. His congressional district voted overwhelmingly for the former first lady in the Pennsylvania primary on April 22.
Both Obama and Clinton have courted superdelegates in recent days in private meetings at party headquarters not far from the Capitol.
Despite Watkins' assessment, Clinton has shown no signs she is ready to quit the race. She is heavily favored to win Tuesday's primary in West Virginia, and is in the midst of a two-day swing through several other states with upcoming elections.