WASHINGTON (CNN) - Many of the Democratic members of Congress convening for President Bush's final State of the Union address tonight have already weighed in on his replacement.
Of the Democratic congressional endorsements, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York leads the remaining candidates competing for their party's nomination with 79 viable endorsements. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois is in second with 59, and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina follows with 16.
Democratic congressional endorsements play an important role in a candidate's ability to secure the party's nomination, beyond any influence they might have with voters. Each Democratic member of Congress gets one vote at the party’s national convention in Denver this August, where the official nominee is elected. These are “superdelegate” votes - independent of their home state's primary or caucus outcomes, which result in the distribution of “pledged” delegates.
To win the nomination, a candidate needs 2,025 of the 4,049 available votes at the convention. There are 286 Democratic members of Congress, including territories. Of those, only 268– about 7 percent of the total convention vote - will have a vote at this year’s convention, because Florida and Michigan have lost their seats due to violations of Democratic Party primary scheduling rules.
Though there is usually a presumptive nominee by each party's conventions at the end of the summer, it’s possible the tight races between the candidates might come down to delegate counts this year.
On the Republican side, John McCain leads with 38 congressional endorsements, though GOP members of Congress do not get to vote at their party's convention this summer.
Some notable endorsements for Sen. Clinton include Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Tom Lantos, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Both are prominent members of the California congressional delegation, where the New York senator is looking to capture many of the state’s 370 delegates on Super Tuesday, February 5.
Sen. Obama has received the backing of both Massachusetts senators, Ted Kennedy and John Kerry. These two prominent members of the Senate could help Obama secure many of the state’s 93 delegates a week from Tuesday as well.
Former Sen. Edwards, who has pledged to stay in the race until a nominee is selected at the convention, has the support of the majority of his home state of North Carolina's Democratic congressional delegation. He also has the backing of Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and Rep. James Oberstar of Minnesota, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Next Tuesday, the Democratic candidates will compete for 1,681 pledged delegates across the country, which will help determine the eventual nominee in August.