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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A group of prominent Hillary Clinton donors sent a letter to House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday asking her to retract her comments on superdelegates and stay out of the Democratic fight over their role in the presidential race.
The 20 prominent Clinton supporters told Pelosi she should "clarify" recent statements to make it clear superdelegates -- nearly 800 party insiders and elected officials who are free to back any candidate -- could support the candidate they think would be the best nominee.
Pelosi has not publicly endorsed either Clinton or Barack Obama in their hotly contested White House battle, but she recently said superdelegates should support whoever emerges from the nomination contests with the most pledged delegates -- which appears almost certain to be Obama.
"This is an untenable position that runs counter to the party's intent in establishing superdelegates in 1984," the letter from the wealthy Clinton backers said.
"Superdelegates, like all delegates, have an obligation to make an informed, individual decision about whom to support and who would be the party's strongest nominee," said the letter signed by some of Clinton's biggest fund raisers.
Superdelegates have emerged as likely kingmakers in the fight between Clinton and Obama. The letter was another sign of growing Democratic tension over their nominating battle.
Neither candidate is expected to have enough pledged delegates won in state-by-state contests to clinch the nomination when voting ends in June, leaving the choice in the hands of the superdelegates.
Both candidates have wooed them heavily, with Obama contending they should follow the will of Democratic voters and Clinton arguing they should vote for the candidate with the best chance of winning the presidential election in November -- which she says is her.
Among the signees of the letter were prominent Democrats and Clinton supporters like Robert Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television; Bernard Schwartz, former chairman of Loral Space and Communications; and venture capitalist Steven Rattner.
The signees reminded the House leader from California of their support for the party's House campaign committee and said "therefore" she should "reflect in your comments a more open view" about superdelegates.
"We appreciate your activities in support of the Democratic Party and your leadership role in the party and hope you will be responsive to some of your major enthusiastic supporters," the letter said.
The Obama campaign said the Illinois senator would support the election efforts of House Democrats no matter what the outcome of the nomination fight.
"This letter is inappropriate and we hope the Clinton campaign will reject the insinuation contained in it," Obama spokesman Bill Burton said.
Clinton spokesman Phil Singer said Clinton had made the case superdelegates should exercise independent judgment about who would be the best for the party and the country.
"Few have done more to build the Democratic Party than Bill and Hillary Clinton. The last thing they need is a lecture from the Obama campaign," he said.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at http:blogs.reuters.com/trail08/