obama expands his lead

WASHINGTON - As Barack Obama sought to put controversial statements by his minister behind him, he expanded his fragile lead over Hillary Rodham Clinton among delegates that will determine who receives the Democratic presidential nomination.

WASHINGTON - As Barack Obama sought to put controversial statements by his minister behind him, he expanded his fragile lead over Hillary Rodham Clinton among delegates that will determine who receives the Democratic presidential nomination.

Obama picked up at least nine delegates on Saturday as Iowa began selecting its representatives for the nominating convention in August.

Obama claimed 52percent of the delegates, compared with 32percent for Clinton.

Some delegates stuck with John Edwards, although he has dropped out of the race.

Also on Saturday, California's Democratic Party finalised the delegate counts from its February 5 primary. Clinton picked up two more pledged delegates, raising her state total to 204; Obama gained five, raising his figure to 166.

House speaker Nancy Pelosi said it would be damaging to the Democratic Party for its leaders to buck the will of national convention delegates picked in primaries and caucuses, a declaration that gives a boost to Obama.

"If the votes of the super-delegates overturn what's happened in the elections, it would be harmful to the Democratic Party," Pelosi said in an interview broadcast yesterday on ABC's This Week.

The California Democrat did not mention either Obama or Clinton by name. But her remarks seemed to suggest she was prepared to cast her ballot at the convention in favour of the candidate who emerges from the primary season with the most pledged delegates.

Most of Obama's attention on Saturday remained on countering inflammatory comments made by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, former pastor of the Chicago church he joined nearly 20 years ago.

Comments by Wright, who has railed against the US and accused its leaders of bringing on the September 11 2001 attacks by spreading terrorism, have been widely aired on television. - Sapa-AP

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