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Hillary's Hill Just Keeps Getting Steeper To Climb

Mark Penn

Mark Penn’s meeting with Colombian diplomats on passing a new trade deal embarrassed Hillary Clinton at a time she can’t afford to lose any blue collar votes. And his ouster as her chief strategist adds turmoil she doesn’t need as she struggles to catch up with Barack Obama.

But for what’s most damaging to Clinton right now, focus not on Mark Penn but on Margaret Campbell.

She’s a Montana state legislator who today is announcing her endorsement of Barack Obama. That makes her the 69th Democratic super-delegate to back Obama since Feb 5--a rate of about one per day. During that same period, Clinton has actually gone backward, with a net loss of two super delegates.

Here’s why that’s an ominous trend for her come from behind hopes.

Clinton trails Obama by more than 160 pledged delegates--those won in primaries and caucuses. So she’s been counting on a late surge among the 795 superdelegates, who automatically get votes at the nominating convention by virtue of their status as members or Congress or party leaders.

But now only about 330 of them remain uncommitted, which means she has to reverse current trends to have a chance.

Clinton aides hope she can demonstrate momentum in closing primaries, and believe Obama has been politically damaged by the controversial remarks of his former pastor Jeremiah Wright.

But that wasn’t enough to stop Margaret Campbell from backing Obama today. She told me Obama’s speech about the Wright controversy showed his strengths at racial reconciliation, and reminded her why she’s a Democrat in the first place.

And with every decision like that, the hill Clinton must climb in this race grows a little steeper.

Questions? Comments? Write to politicalcapital@cnbc.com.