May 9, 2008 3:19:04 PM PDT
Barack Obama all but erased Hillary Rodham Clinton's once-imposing lead among national convention superdelegates on Friday and won fresh labor backing as elements of the Democratic Party began coalescing around the Illinois senator for the fall campaign. Obama picked up the backing of nine superdelegates, including Rep. Donald Payne of New Jersey, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus who had been a Clinton supporter.

In addition, the American Federation of Government Employees announced its support for Obama. The union claims about 600,000 members who work in the federal and Washington, D.C., governments.

Obama, who won a convincing victory in the North Carolina primary and lost Indiana narrowly on Tuesday, has been steadily gaining strength in the days since.

"I'm gratified that we've got some superdelegates who are coming our way. And I think we've got a strong case to make that I will be a nominee that can pull the party together and take on John McCain. Our focus has always been on the pledged delegates and just getting the American people to vote for us. And we think that ultimately that should be the strongest measure of who's the nominee," Obama told reporters in Woodburn, Ore.

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