From: Reuters
Published March 28, 2008 08:06 AM

Top Democrat wants party contest decided by July 1

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Democratic Party chairman said on Friday he hopes the increasingly contentious rivalry between presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton can be decided by July 1 to avoid a fight at the party's convention.

Howard Dean, former Vermont governor and a presidential candidate in 2004, urged the two candidates to focus on the coming general election battle against Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

"I think it would be nice to have this all done by July 1," Dean said on ABC's "Good Morning America" program. "If we can do it sooner than that, that's all the better.

"There has been some personal criticism," he said. "We don't want this to degenerate into a big fight at the convention."

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Obama, an Illinois senator, has captured more state primaries, more votes and more of the pledged convention delegates who will help decide which Democrat faces McCain in November's presidential election.

But Clinton, a New York senator, has so far shrugged off predictions of a likely defeat in hopes of finding at least a narrow path to victory.

Dean said he wants the party's superdelegates -- party officials not pledged to a particular candidate -- to speak publicly about which candidate they support so that the loser would feel fairly treated. Superdelegates have emerged as likely kingmakers in the fight between Clinton and Obama.

"The candidates have got to understand that they have an obligation to our country to unify," Dean said in another interview on CBS's "Early Show." "Somebody is going to lose this race with 49.8 percent of the vote and that person has got to pull their supporters in behind the nominee."

(Reporting by David Morgan and Eric Beech; Editing by Bill Trott)

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