Democrat Barack Obama's campaign chief predicted on Sunday his protracted battle against Hillary Clinton for the party's presidential nomination would soon be over, saying "we're coming to the end of the process."
Interviewed on Fox New Sunday, David Axelrod said undecided superdelegates to the party convention who will decide the nomination were opting for Obama, the Illinois senator who would be America's first black president if elected in November.
"You're going to see people [superdelegates] making decisions at a rapid pace from this point on," he said. "We've been announcing several each day for the last few days. We're going to continue to unfurl these endorsements on a regular basis."
Clinton's senior adviser Howard Wolfson, appearing on the same program, rejected the idea that the campaign was over and predicted victory in the next state primary in West Virginia on Tuesday.
"If Barack Obama wants Hillary Clinton out of this race, beat her. Beat her in West Virginia, beat her in Puerto Rico, beat her in Kentucky," he said, referring to three of the final six contests for the nomination, all of which favor Clinton.
But he said if Obama, 46, won the nomination, the New York senator would throw all her support and resources behind him against Republican nominee John McCain.
Even if she triumphs in the remaining contests, Clinton, 60, cannot overtake Obama in pledged delegates for the August national convention in Denver. The delegates have been allocated proportionately in the state-by-state battles that began in January.
That leaves the decision on which Democrat will face McCain in the November election in the hands of around 800 superdelegates - party leaders and activists who are free to choose whichever candidate they wish.
The latest delegate count from NBC news gives Obama 1,859 delegates and Clinton 1,703, while 2,025 are needed to clinch the nomination.
Many Democrats are eager to get the nominating battle over so the party can unite and prepare to face McCain, 71. Some worry the protracted battle is hurting their chances in November by highlighting both candidates' weak points and driving a wedge between their supporters.
Obama has won most support from upscale voters, young voters and blacks. Clinton's support comes more from working class white voters and Hispanics.
"There's an eagerness on the part of the party leadership and activists across the country to get on with the general election," said Axelrod.
But a Los Angeles Times poll this weekend showed both Democrats leading McCain. Clinton led the Arizona senator 47 per cent to 38 per cent while Obama was ahead 46 per cent to 40 per cent. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 per centage points.
A poll analysis said dissatisfaction with the economy was driving the results, with 56 per cent of respondents naming that as their main issue, a turnaround from six months ago when the war in Iraq was the top concern.
Among voters worried about the economy, a solid majority backed either of the Democrats against McCain.
The candidates themselves were taking some time off the campaign trail on Sunday ahead of the next battles.