Looking to build Democratic unity, Barack Obama has called for restoration of full voting rights for convention delegates from the key swing states of Florida and Michigan, which flouted party rules by holding their primary elections too early.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, who ran a close second to Obama in the party's nomination process, won both states and had argued unsuccessfully that delegates she captured in those contests should be counted in her favor.
The delegates were each awarded a half vote each in a compromise reached during a contentious Democratic party meeting in May. Obama secured the necessary number of delegates shortly afterward, and Clinton suspended her campaign and threw her support to her first-term Senate colleague.
Call for unity
Obama had opposed full votes for those delegates until now, with the party's national convention less than a month distant and his nomination as its presidential candidate all but certain.
"We must be and will be united in our determination to change the course of our nation. To that end, Democrats in Florida and Michigan must know that they are full partners and colleagues in our historic mission to reshape Washington and lead our country in a new direction," Obama said in a letter to the party credentials committee that was distributed to reporters Sunday by his campaign.
The delegates were originally stripped of voting rights at the Denver convention late this month because the two states violated party rules by holding primaries before Feb. 5.
Obama's endorsement virtually guarantees the delegates will have full voting rights. Clinton, who also has supporters on the credentials committee, had lobbied to reinstate the delegates.
Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Karen Thurman said, "Today is a proud day for all of us who fought so hard to ensure Floridians votes are fully counted."
She said Obama's request proves "his commitment to uniting the party and ending the uncertainty surrounding the process."
Both Democrats and Republicans struggled to control their primary calendars this year, with states jockeying to increase their influence by moving their nominating contests earlier. The Republicans penalized five states — Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, Wyoming and South Carolina — for holding contests before Feb. 5, stripping them of half their delegates.
Republican candidate John McCain has not publicly pressed for their reinstatement, though many party insiders expect them to have full voting rights as well.
Obama prepares energy speech
Both candidates stayed out of the public eye on Sunday, as Obama prepared to deliver what his campaign said would be a major speech Monday outlining his policy for overcoming the country's energy crisis, including plans to "eliminate our need for Middle Eastern oil in 10 years." Details were not immediately available.
McCain was planning a small business round table appearance in Pennsylvania before flying to South Dakota.
In the general election contest meanwhile, intensified attacks by McCain on Obama's character have coincided with the Illinois senator losing a nine percentage-point advantage in a key national poll, which showed the candidates running dead even over the weekend.
McCain, who had vowed to eschew the kind of negative tactics that were used against him in the 2000 Republican primary contest with George W. Bush, began attacking Obama during the Illinois senator's trip to Iraq and Afghanistan late last month.
Series of attacks
The four-term Arizona senator, who backed the war and claims long experience with security and foreign policy issues, charged that Obama's promise to withdraw American forces from Iraq within 16 months of taking office amounted to his having chosen to lose a war to promote his run for the presidency.
McCain has not relented even thought he took criticism for the remark. It appeared at the time to be a defensive response to the massive attention paid to the Obama visit to the two American war fronts as well as to the Middle East and Europe.
McCain subsequently ran a television ad that accused Obama of deciding not to visit wounded American troops because he could not take television cameras — a claim that appeared to be false. Next he issued a commercial that intercut images of Obama with pop culture figures Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, trying to paint Obama as a celebrity without the experience to lead the country.
That was followed by accusations that Obama, who would be the first black American president, had resorted to racial politics by asserting McCain and other Republicans would try to frighten Americans because Obama did not look like past U.S. presidents whose images are on the country's paper money.
And most recently, in an Internet advertisement, the voiceover calls Obama "The One" and features Obama appearing to describe himself and his presidential quest in grandiose terms. It ends with Charlton Heston as Moses parting the Red Sea in the movie, "The Ten Commandments."
In the course of that full-throttle McCain offensive, Obama's lead in the respected Gallup Poll tracking survey slid from nine percentage points on July 26, when he returned from overseas, to nothing by Saturday, when the poll showed the candidates tied at 44 percent.