WASHINGTON — Barack Obama inched closer to clinching the Democratic presidential nomination Tuesday, as talk swirled that Hillary Clinton would soon end her bid.
As voters in Montana and South Dakota went to the polls in the year's final primaries, Obama's campaign estimated Tuesday afternoon that it was only 33.5 delegates short of the 2,118 needed to nominate. Associated Press said he needed less than 40.
Earlier Tuesday, Associated Press reported that Clinton would say later in the evening that Obama had secured enough delegates to win.
The Clinton campaign quickly denied the report, issuing a one-sentence statement saying flatly, "The AP story is incorrect. Sen. Clinton will not concede this evening."
Clinton campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe told CNN that the campaign expects to continue trying to convince superdelegates that Clinton has won more popular votes than Obama and that she would be the strongest candidate this fall against presumptive Republican nominee John McCain.
But throughout the day, Obama benefited from a slow but steady trickle of superdelegates _ party officials and dignitaries _ coming his way. Seven superdelegates committed to him by 2 p.m. EDT on Tuesday.
The most prominent was Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., a senior top-ranking black member of the House of Representatives, who had stayed staunchly neutral during his state's crucial January primary.
But now, Clyburn told NBC's "Today Show," "the process ends." Joining Clyburn in declaring for Obama was his fellow South Carolina Rep. John Spratt, who heads the House Budget Committee.
Separately, Ohio's state House Democratic Leader Joyce Beatty, a superdelegate as a member of the Democratic National Committee, and Jennifer Dechant, one of Maine's nine Democratic superdelegates, each said Tuesday that the will support Obama.
Also getting behind Obama were three Michigan delegates. Among them was Democratic National Committee member Debbie Dingell, who praised Clinton for "a well run campaign" and suggested "she would have made a terrific president."
The biggest remaining bloc of uncommitted superdelegates was on Capitol Hill. In the Senate, 17 members remained uncommitted as of early afternoon Tuesday. Most said they would wait until Wednesday before deciding whether to endorse anyone right away, though Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said he would be guided by the results of his state's primary.
Other senators said they were wary of backing Obama before they heard from Clinton; her campaign, as well as Obama's, stayed in close touch with the uncommitted superdelegates throughout the day.
"For most of us, we probably won't be there — ready for an endorsement — until tomorrow. It's important Sen. Clinton be given some space," said Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo.
Led by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the uncommitted Senate superdelegates plan to meet on Capitol Hill at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, about the same time that Clinton and Obama are addressing the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee at the nearby Washington Convention Center.
Speculation at the Capitol was that Obama could quickly join the senators for an appearance that would officially put him over the number of delegates needed to clinch the nomination.
But Harkin said that the uncommitteds were not sure they wanted to make such a collective statement; that was to be a topic of discussion for Wednesday.
Like others, he said that they don't want to be in a position to embarrass Clinton.
"I have enormous regard for her, and she is the first serious woman candidate," explained Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis.
"In this town, people often think you have to stick it in someone's eye, and that's a mistake. People should relax and let things take their course."
(Lisa Zagaroli contributed to this story)