Democrat Dick Gephardt (search) has the backing of 31 House colleagues. John Kerry (search) answers with one senator, 15 House members and a top Hispanic from the Clinton administration. Joe Lieberman (search) counters with a senator, 11 representatives and the Hispanic lieutenant governor of California.

Sounds a lot like kids collecting baseball cards - without the bubble gum.

Endorsements are a staple of the political campaign, support the candidates herald with great fanfare and cannot do without. A select few are far more valuable, with an AFL-CIO (search) endorsement for a Democrat ranking high, for example.

But for all the trumpeting by the candidates, their advisers are the first to admit that most endorsements don't do much to change the outcome of primaries and caucuses.

"Very few elected officials have the ability to move voters to someone other than themselves," said Steve Elmendorf, a senior adviser to the campaign of Missouri's Gephardt. "This has much more to do with money and momentum and less to do with getting people to show up at the polls."

The endorsements "kind of validate a candidacy," said Craig Smith, campaign director for Lieberman, a Connecticut senator.

Even those who endorse acknowledge that their backing has a limited effect.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who is supporting Lieberman, said an endorsement can make some difference "at the margins."

Alex Sanders, a former Senate candidate from South Carolina who supports Kerry, said a politician's endorsement usually means little.

"How many votes can Alex Sanders deliver?" Sanders asked. "I would say, probably, one."

Still, that does not deter the candidates from pursuing endorsements, especially in the early states such as Iowa and New Hampshire, or ensuring they have the support of politicians whose backing for another candidate could prove embarrassing.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (search), D-Calif., last month announced her support for her predecessor, former Democratic leader Gephardt. If Pelosi had backed anyone else, it would have left the Gephardt camp chagrined.

The endorsement that will boost the spirits of Gephardt, or any of the other nine Democrats, would be the backing of the AFL-CIO. The union will decide in August whether to make an endorsement. In 1983, shortly before the primaries, the AFL-CIO went with the eventual nominee, Walter Mondale, and in 1999, it backed Al Gore, the Democrats' pick in 2000.

Other endorsements to watch for include four-term Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin and former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (search).

Bill Shaheen said his decision to serve as Kerry's state party chairman has not swayed his wife. "I've been trying to get her to endorse for the last three months," Shaheen said. "I can't move her."

In South Carolina, Rep. Jim Clyburn's endorsement could be crucial. He is the most prominent black politician in a state where almost half the voters in the Democratic primary in early February probably will be minorities.

In the meantime, the candidates will continue to keep a scorecard.

Sen. John Edwards (search) has six House members from his home state of North Carolina as well as Texas Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson.Howard Dean (search), the former Vermont governor, totals two House members and Vermont's two senators. Sen. Bob Graham (search) of Florida has rounded up some local endorsements from the early primary states.

The candidates also have a slew of state officials and party activists, too many to list.

"My general rule of thumb is that if you get somebody to endorse you, you may have their vote, and if you're lucky, their spouse," said Dayton Duncan, a New Hampshire party activist and author of a book about the state's presidential primary.