"Most of their advice is, 'Let this play out, let's get through the primaries,' " Mr. Dean said. "And I think that's right....Voters have to have their say. It's painful, because that means we've got another two months of this."
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is expected to endorse Sen. Obama Monday, according to a Democrat familiar with her plans. Meanwhile, North Carolina's seven Democratic House members are poised to endorse Sen. Obama as a group -- just one has so far -- before that state's May 6 primary, several Democrats say.
Helping to drive the endorsements is a fear that the Obama-Clinton contest has grown toxic and threatens the Democratic Party's chances against Republican John McCain in the fall.
Sen. Clinton rejects that view. Over the weekend, she reiterated her intent to stay in the race beyond the last contest in early June -- and all the way to the party's convention in Denver, if necessary.
"There are some folks saying we ought to stop these elections," she said Saturday in Indiana, which also has a May 6 primary. "I didn't think we believed that in America. I thought we of all people knew how important it was to give everyone a chance to have their voices heard and their votes counted."
Sen. Obama told reporters, "My attitude is that Sen. Clinton can run as long as she wants."
In earlier eras, the standoff between the two candidates might have been resolved by party elders acting behind the scenes. But no Democrat today has the power to knock heads and resolve the mess. Party Chairman Howard Dean says he was "dumbfounded" at the suggestion by Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy Friday that Sen. Clinton should pull out.
"Having run for president myself, nobody tells you when to get in, and nobody tells you when to get out," Mr. Dean said. "That's about the most personal decision you can make after all the time and effort you put into it."
New York Sen. Clinton still hopes that by turning in strong performances in the final primaries, she can blunt the momentum of her rival from Illinois and make the case that she is best-positioned to take on Sen. McCain. With Mr. Dean, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, former Vice President Al Gore and other party leaders remaining neutral, the question is whether the trend of party figures endorsing Sen. Obama will build enough momentum to tip the race.
The expected move by Minnesota's Sen. Klobuchar follows Friday's endorsement of Sen. Obama by Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, which holds its primary April 22.
Both senators had planned to remain neutral, according to party officials, but decided to weigh in as the Democrats' campaign became more negative and Sen. McCain was free to exploit the confusion looking to the November election.
One North Carolinian confirmed that at least several of the state's House members would go public in favor of Sen. Obama before long. Meanwhile, elected officials in other states with upcoming contests, including Indiana, Montana and Oregon, are weighing whether to endorse Sen. Obama.
What makes such endorsements significant is that they're from superdelegates. These delegates -- members of Congress, governors and other party officials -- can vote for whomever they want at the Democratic convention in August. Sen. Obama has a slight lead over Sen. Clinton in the pledged-delegate count -- the delegates won during primaries and caucuses -- but neither can amass enough pledged delegates for a majority. That makes the vote of the superdelegates decisive.
Since the "Super Tuesday" primaries on Feb. 5, Sen. Obama has won commitments from 64 superdelegates and Sen. Clinton has gotten nine. Sen. Obama has a total of 217 superdelegates in his camp while Sen. Clinton has 250, and her margin has been shrinking with each week. Sen. Clinton would have several more in her tally, but they're from Michigan, and delegates from Michigan and Florida won't be seated -- at least for now -- because both states defied party rules and held their primaries earlier than permitted.
"I think that says a lot about just where people are and what they're thinking," says former Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle, an Obama supporter. "And I think the numbers are just going to keep getting better" for Sen. Obama. Counting Sen. Klobuchar, Sen. Obama leads 13-11 among their Democratic colleagues in the Senate.Even raising the prospect of a convention fight could backfire for Sen. Clinton by antagonizing the superdelegates she needs. Many superdelegates are on the ballot themselves this year, and the last thing they want is a chaotic convention that plays into the hands of Republicans.
In interviews, some House Democrats said Sen. Obama has the edge in the chamber. They noted that he has proved himself the stronger fund-raiser and has attracted more new voters to the party than anyone in recent memory -- both advantages that could benefit other Democrats. They worry that Sen. Clinton's high negative ratings in polls would incite more Republicans to mobilize against her and the Democratic ticket.
Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, a former presidential candidate and a past party chairman, told National Journal Friday that Sen. Obama's nomination is "a foregone conclusion" and "enough is enough." Sen. Dodd has endorsed Sen. Obama.
Mr. Dean, the party chairman, is urging uncommitted superdelegates to take sides no later than July 1, and effectively name the nominee. "If we go into the convention divided, it's pretty likely we'll come out of the convention divided," he said.
Democrats across the board, he said, "are haranguing me to show leadership." But they're often partisans for one candidate or the other, he added. Meanwhile, he said he is conferring with other party leaders, including Mrs. Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada; former Vice President Al Gore; civil-rights veteran and Clinton confidante Vernon Jordan; former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo; and Jesse Jackson and his son, Chicago Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.