WASHINGTON — Democrats searched for a compromise Saturday to seat disputed delegations from Michigan and Florida at this summer's party convention and clear the way for a quick end to the marathon struggle between Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The challenge is to "come together at the end of the day and be united," Howard Dean, the party chairman, told members of the convention's Rules and Bylaws Committee gathered at a hotel across town from the White House.

Obama is a mere 42 delegates short of the 2,026 needed to clinch the nomination, in the Associated Press tally, and appears on track to wrap up the party prize in the coming days.

Clinton trails by about 200 delegates. She has pressed to have the entire Michigan and Florida delegations seated, both to narrow the gap and to buttress her claim that she has outpolled her rival in the popular vote in the primaries and caucuses.

Several hundred protesters maintained a noisy but peaceful presence on the sidewalk outside the hotel where party activists met.

Beverly Battelle Weeks, 56, said she got up before dawn to make the drive from got up before 4 a.m. to drive up from Richmond, Va. for the rally. She carried a black umbrella on which she had pasted letters spelling out "Count All Votes."

"The right thing to do is to seat all the delegates. Anything less is not democratic," she said.

Michigan and Florida both held primaries earlier in the winter than party rules allowed, resulting in the disqualification of their delegates.

Alexis Herman, who heads the rules committee, called that the "maximum penalty," an understatement given the controversy it has caused in the epic battle between a woman and a black man for the nomination.

In all, there were 368 delegates in limbo, 211 from Florida and 157 from Michigan.

The most widely discussed compromise envisioned granting seats to all those delegates, but giving each one-half a vote. That would satisfy Clinton's call for all to be seated without jeopardizing Obama's lead.

Clinton campaigned in Puerto Rico as the committee met, hoping for a strong showing in Sunday's primary. Obama was in South Dakota, one of two states holding elections on Tuesday, the final day on the primary calendar. Montana is the other.

Both candidates were amply represented around the hearing table, with numerous supporters holding seats on the committee.

On the Net:

Democratic Party: www.democrats.org

Associated Press reporter Stephen Manning contributed to this report.