Former President Bill Clinton speaks in support of his wife, Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., at the California Democratic Convention, Sunday, March 30, 2008 in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/George Nikitin)
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -- Allowing the Democratic presidential race to continue several more weeks will not hurt the party's chances in November, former President Clinton said Sunday, urging those concerned that the opposite will happen to "chill out" and let the balloting run its course.
Bill Clinton dismissed suggestions by supporters of Barack Obama that Hillary Rodham Clinton was damaging the party by staying in the race even though she is behind in delegates and unlikely to overtake the Illinois senator based on the contests to come.
"There is somehow the suggestion that because we are having a vigorous debate about who would be the best president, we are going to weaken this party in the fall," he said Sunday at the state Democratic Party convention. "Chill out.
"We're going to win this election if we just chill out and let everybody have their say," Clinton added.
Obama himself said Saturday that the decision about whether to drop out is for Hillary Clinton to make.
"My attitude is Senator Clinton can run as long as she wants," he told reporters in Pennsylvania, where he is campaigning for that state's April 22 primary.
The former president flew in from Pennsylvania to make his pitch at the convention, which attracted a large number of superdelegates, the elected officials and party insiders who will determine whether Hillary Clinton or Obama gets the Democratic presidential nomination.
Nearly one-third of California's 65 named delegates have yet to choose sides. Unlike the pledged delegates won in primaries and caucuses, superdelegates are free to vote for whichever candidate they want.
Of those who have made up their minds in California, Clinton is far ahead, according to a survey by The Associated Press. She has 29 superdelegates to Obama's 13. Twenty-one are undecided or say they will not commit before the party's national convention in August. Two have not responded.
California will have one more delegate when the San Francisco Bay area congressional seat left vacant by the death of Tom Lantos is filled.
Five others will be appointed by the party on May 18, bringing the total to 71.
Clinton delivered a similar message during a private meeting with a couple dozen superdelegates before the speech.
"He talked a little bit about letting the process play out," said Christine Pelosi, an undecided superdelegate from San Francisco who attended and described Clinton as "very good, very intense." Pelosi is the daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Undecided superdelegates say they see no urgency to make up their minds, despite the campaigns' pleas.
Bob Rankin, an uncommitted superdelegate from Carson, near Long Beach, was still figuring out how to make up his mind.
While Obama leads nationally in the popular vote and in pledged delegates, Clinton won both overwhelmingly in California. Voters in Rankin's congressional district chose Obama, while his congresswoman, Laura Richardson, backed Clinton.
Rankin said Obama called him two weeks ago to urge him to make up his mind.
"He wanted to end this thing now for the good of the party," Rankin said. "I told him I was not ready to do that."
Rankin also received an invitation to attend a private meeting for superdelegates with Bill Clinton at the convention Sunday morning, but turned it down because he planned to leave a day early. He said he'll make up his mind after all the voters have had their say.
"I feel they need to be heard," he said.
During a campaign event later Sunday in Medford, Ore., Clinton called his wife "the best change-maker I ever knew," noting her work as a law student to help protect victims of child abuse and as a senator to get benefits for New York police and firefighters who breathed polluted air after the 9/11 attack.
About 2,500 people crowded into a gym to see the former president, and a few expressed their commitment to Hillary Clinton.
"I'm glad she's still in it," said laid-off construction worker Joe O'Neill, 30, of Medford. "It shows she won't quit."
Associated Press writer Jeff Barnard in Medford, Ore., contributed to this report.