Washington Sen. Barack Obama got a front-runner's welcome back at the Capitol Thursday, pressing congressional "superdelegates" to support him in a visit that had the look and feel of a campaign victory lap.
On the House floor, he was quickly surrounded by well-wishers calling him, "Mr. President" and reaching out to pat him on the back or shake his hand. The glad-handers included a few Republicans and supporters of his Democratic presidential rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
He picked up the superdelegate support of at least two lawmakers: Rep. Brad Miller of North Carolina, where Obama handily won the primary on Tuesday, and Rep. Rick Larsen of Washington state.
Obama predicted he would lose the next two contests to Clinton - West Virginia and Kentucky - but said he expected to win other states. His presence here underscored the nomination math: The remaining six primaries and their 217 delegates are not what matters most in the winding-down campaign.
More important are the 260-plus superdelegates who are yet to be claimed and are not bound by the outcome of any state's vote. Although Obama cannot be caught in the race for primary delegates, neither can he win the nomination without the backing of more superdelegates.
"Our goal is going to be to try to be to bring the party together as soon as possible," Obama said as he walked through the Capitol after his visit to the House with a swarm of reporters jostling to question him. "But we still have contests remaining, and so in no way am I taking this for granted. We're going to have to keep on working."
About a third of the undeclared superdelegates are members of Congress, which is why Obama spent the day away from the campaign trail on Capitol Hill.
"My main message is that whichever way you want to go, the sooner that superdelegates make their decision the sooner we will have a sense of who the nominee will be and sooner we can focus on John McCain," Obama told the Fox News Channel outside his Senate office.
The Associated Press has contacted nearly 100 undeclared superdelegates since the Tuesday elections and has found that many see Obama as the likely nominee but are reluctant to make a public commitment until after the final states hold their votes June 3.
"There are no undecided superdelegates, there are really only undeclared superdelegates," uncommitted Democratic National Committee member Edward Espinoza of California said in an interview with AP Television. "And what many people have to deal with in this process is grappling professional and political interests when they make a declaration."
Clinton, who was campaigning from West Virginia to Oregon on Thursday, had done her own courting of undeclared members of Congress a day earlier. Florida Rep. Tim Mahoney said he met one-on-one with her for about 30 minutes but didn't plan to commit to a candidate any time soon.
"As a businessman, you don't make a decision until you have to because you get the benefit of more information," he said. He added that he also wanted to push issues important to Florida and said the best way to get the candidates to listen was to stay uncommitted.