WASHINGTON — Barack Obama heads back to the scene of his first breakthrough triumph Tuesday, hoping to use Iowa as a backdrop to announce that he's gained enough pledged delegates to all but clinch the Democratic presidential nomination.
The Illinois senator was looking for a split decision in two primary states — he's leading in Oregon and trailing in Kentucky — that aides predicted would put him ahead to stay among delegates elected in caucuses and primaries.
"When the votes are counted in Oregon and Kentucky, we could secure a majority of delegates elected by the voters," Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said Monday.
"A clear majority of elected delegates will send an unmistakable message: The people have spoken, and they are ready for change."
The Illinois senator planned a rally for Tuesday evening in Des Moines, where his victory in precinct caucuses on Jan. 3 first signaled that he could defeat frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
Clinton's camp called it arrogant and presumptuous.
"Senator Obama's plan to declare himself the Democratic nominee tomorrow night in Iowa is a slap in the face to the millions of voters in the remaining primary states and to Senator Clinton's 17 million supporters," Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson said Monday. "Premature victory laps and false declarations of victory are unwarranted. Declaring mission accomplished does not make it so."
The New York senator's campaign stressed that Obama won't able to clinch the nomination on Tuesday even if he does secure the majority of pledged delegates.
"There is no scenario under the rules of the Democratic National Committee by which Senator Obama will be able to claim the nomination tomorrow night," Wolfson said.
As of Monday, Obama had 1,915 delegates — elected and unelected — toward the 2,026 needed to take the nomination, according to the Associated Press tally. He gained two more unelected superdelegates Monday — Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Washington state Democratic Party chairman Dwight Pelz.
Clinton had 1,721.
Obama needs another 116 to clinch; she needs 305.
There are 179 delegates left to be awarded in primaries: 51 in Kentucky and 52 in Oregon on Tuesday; 55 in Puerto Rico on June 1; 15 in South Dakota on June 3, and 16 in Montana, also on June 3.
About 185 unelected superdelegates also have yet to say whom they'll support.
If Obama does emerge from Tuesday's voting with the majority of elected delegates, he believes it would be a powerful selling point to remaining uncommitted superdelegates.
It's also a stroke of political theater to mask some bad news Tuesday and overly dramatize the good, suggested one analyst.
"That's his way of putting pressure on the superdelegates," said Dennis Goldford, a political scientist at Drake University in Iowa. "But they've heard it already. They're already expecting it.
"And it's his way of throwing some sand in the lens of the camera Tuesday night when he's getting shellacked in Kentucky."
Obama trails Clinton in Kentucky by an average of 29 percentage points, according to a tally by the Web site www.realclearpolitics.com. He leads in Oregon by an average of 12 points.