WASHINGTON — Hillary Rodham Clinton supporters are gathering for what could be her last big stand today, as the Democratic Party's rules committee meets to decide how to resolve a dispute over Florida's and Michigan's 368 delegates to the Democratic National Convention.
With only three primaries remaining -- Puerto Rico on Sunday, and Montana and South Dakota on Tuesday -- today's meeting could be Clinton's final major effort to overtake Obama. She needs a big victory from the 30-member panel, which is expected to meet all day, and her supporters plan a rally to help press her case.
The math and the process confronting the rules committee are complex, but it boils down to this:
As of Friday night, Obama had 1,984 delegates, and Clinton had 1,782. Currently, a total of 2,026 is needed to win, but that number will change depending on how many Florida and Michigan delegates are seated.
The committee will grapple with two issues today. One is whether to seat the two delegations at all. Michigan and Florida held their primaries in January, defying party rules, and were stripped of all of their 368 convention delegates.
A memo from party legal advisers this week said the committee could seat no more than half the delegations. Keeping out the rest would be the states' punishment.
The committee is expected also to deal with the question of who gets whatever delegates are seated. In Michigan, Obama and virtually every other major contender except Clinton took their names off the ballot. Obama and Clinton pledged not to campaign in Florida.
Clinton won Michigan with 55 percent of the vote. "Uncommitted" got 40 percent, widely seen as a vote for Obama.
In Florida, Clinton took 50 percent, Obama trailed with 33 percent, and 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards, who has since endorsed Obama, got 14 percent.
Florida Democrats are pushing a plan to split the delegation's votes 50-50 between Clinton and Obama.
Michigan's case is more complicated. Clinton argues that the full delegation should be seated, and that she should get 73 delegates, "uncommitted" 55, and Obama none.
Signals suggest that she's unlikely to prevail. A four-member group of state Democratic bigwigs, including Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, is pushing a plan to give Clinton 69 delegates and Obama 59, and people who serve on the Rules and Bylaws Committee generally aren't rabid partisans. They tend to be insiders who want the party to prosper -- hardly the kind of politicians who are likely to tie the institution in procedural knots that could jeopardize its chances of winning in November.
"Everyone on that committee has a real institutional concern for the Democratic Party," said committee member Donald Fowler, a Clinton backer and former party chairman.
"We're not the Supreme Court. We're a political organization," said Allan Katz, a Tallahassee, Fla., city official who backs Obama.
Another possible sign that passions may be cooling: Harold Ickes, a committee member, top Clinton adviser and noted hardball player, wouldn't say Friday whether Clinton's team would appeal a decision that didn't go its way to the credentials committee at the Democratic convention in late August.
"We think it's not useful to cross streams before we come to them," he said.