A top Hillary Clinton adviser on Saturday boldly predicted his candidate would lock down the nomination before the August convention by definitively winning over party insiders and officials known as superdelegates, claiming the number of state elections won by rival Barack Obama would be "irrelevant" to their decision.
The claims no doubt will escalate the war of words between the campaigns, as Obama continues to argue superdelegates should vote the way of their districts. But the special class of delegates, which make up about 20 percent of the total delegate haul, are not bound to vote the way of their states and districts, as pledged delegates are.
Obama leads handily in the pledged delegate count and has won more states but trails Clinton in superdelegates, making them potential and controversial deadlock-breakers if the race ends up a dead heat come convention time.
Harold Ickes, a 40-year party operative charged with winning over superdelegates for the Clinton campaign, made no apologies on Saturday for the campaign's convention strategy.
"We're going to win this nomination," Ickes said, adding that they would do so soon after the last contest on June 7 in Puerto Rico. "You're not going to see this go to the convention floor."
Ickes predicted Clinton and Obama would run "neck and neck" in the remaining states and that there would be a "minuscule amount of difference" between the two in pledged delegates.
But he said superdelegates would determine the outcome and side in larger numbers for Clinton, as they "have a sense of what it takes to get elected."
Even though averages of head-to-head polls on RealClearPolitics.com show Obama beating presumptive GOP nominee John McCain in a general election and Clinton losing, the Clinton camp is stressing the electability argument.
Ickes said superdelegates must "exercise their best judgment" about who can win the White House.
In essence, he argued the party's 795 superdelegates (Connecticut Independent-Democrat Sen. Joe Lieberman recently was stripped of his superdelegate status) were in a better position to assess electability and suitability for the presidency than party regulars who will attend the national convention in late August as pledged delegates.
He also said Michigan and Florida, which voted for Clinton, should have delegates seated at the convention even though the national party stripped them for holding early primaries.
Obama Campaign Manager David Plouffe on Saturday blasted Clinton for the strategy.
"The Clinton campaign just said they have two options for trying to win the nomination — attempting to have superdelegates overturn the will of the Democratic voters or change the rules they agreed to at the eleventh hour in order to seat non-existent delegates from Florida and Michigan," he said in a statement.
"The Clinton campaign should focus on winning pledged delegates as a result of elections, not these say-or-do-anything-to-win tactics that could undermine Democrats' ability to win the general election."
Many top Democrats, among them House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have said superdelegates should follow the will of voters expressed through primaries and caucuses and not trump those votes.
The Obama campaign also circulated a Bloomberg story from Friday quoting Pelosi, who said Michigan and Florida should not decide the race since they broke party rules.
Though he predicted the superdelegates basically would turn the election, Ickes in the same phone call Saturday said he objected to the term because it implied they had too much power. He said from here out, he's calling them "automatic delegates."
"The Fourth Estate created the term 'superdelegate,'" Ickes said, though Democrats have used the term widely in the roiling debate of their allegiances and responsibilities in the increasingly competitive and high-stakes battle for the Democratic presidential nomination.
"They don't have super powers," Ickes said. "It's one person, one vote. They have no more power than any other delegate. But they do have a sense of what it takes to get elected."
Superdelegates consist of members of Congress, former presidents, governors and other party officials and insiders. The class was created in 1982 to take power away from activists and hand it to party insiders. Rarely have their votes decided the nominee.
"They are closely in touch with the issues and ideas of the jurisdiction they represent and they are as much or more in touch than delegates won or recruited by presidential campaigns," Ickes said.
Obama currently leads Clinton by 136 in pledged delegates but trails by 95 in superdelegates, according to calculations given by both campaigns.
"Hillary will end up with more automatic delegates than Obama," Ickes said, and the number of elections won by Obama is "irrelevant to the obligations of automatic delegates."
That support, however, could be eroding for Clinton, as recent reports have said some black superdelegate supporters are reconsidering their endorsements since their districts voted mostly for Obama.
FOX News' Major Garrett contributed to this report.