Clinton, Obama face reckoning

Updated: 2008-03-05 07:34

Barack Obama sought a knockout against rival Hillary Rodham Clinton as voting began yesterday in crucial races in Texas and Ohio, where the former first lady desperately needs a win to salvage her once-powerful candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Voters in two other states - Vermont and Rhode Island - also cast ballots in contests that offer a total of 370 delegates. But Texas and Ohio are pivotal, providing Clinton with what could be her last chance to end Obama's string of 11 wins and keep alive her hope to become the US's first female president.

Republicans also compete in the same four primaries, and a strong showing by presumptive nominee John McCain could allow him to clinch the nomination that is already well within his grasp.

In Houston, both Obama and Clinton expressed confidence in their chances. But both sides acknowledged that split decisions on Tuesday and close votes could prolong their fierce and often acrimonious battle for at least another month - or more. Senior Democratic officials worry that this could undercut the party's chances of taking the White House.

"We know this has been an extraordinary election. It continues to be. We're working hard to do as well as we can," said Obama, who planned to await the Texas returns in San Antonio.

"I'm just getting warmed up," Clinton told reporters, a clear sign that she expects to press the campaign on beyond Tuesday no matter the outcome. She also dismissed concerns that the prolonged campaign could hurt the party, saying Democrats will rally behind the eventual nominee.

Former President Bill Clinton has asserted that his wife must win both Texas and Ohio to keep her campaign alive. But his wife's advisers have recast the stakes, saying if Obama lost any of the four presidential primaries it would show voters are having second thoughts about him.

Polls show tight races in both Texas and Ohio. The Obama campaign saw Texas as their best opportunity, while the Clinton campaign saw Ohio as theirs. Polls showed Clinton ahead in Rhode Island, but Obama leading in Vermont.

Obama has won 11 straight contests since the Feb. 5 "Super Tuesday'" series of races, and leads in the Associated Press delegate count, 1,386-1,276. He has also been gaining ground among superdelegates - senior party officials who are free to vote as they wish. And, as the victories have piled up, Clinton's support has begun to erode.

A total of 2,025 delegates is needed to secure the Democratic nomination at the party's convention in late August in Denver. Slightly more than 600 delegates will remain to be picked in primaries and caucuses in 10 states after Tuesday's races, beginning with Wyoming caucuses this weekend and a Mississippi primary on March 11. Pennsylvania is the biggest state remaining, with 158 delegates in a primary on April 22.

Clinton needs to win by sizable margins in Ohio and Texas to cut into Obama's lead in the delegate count because they are awarded proportionally. And even if Clinton wins the popular vote in Texas, she could wind up with fewer delegates than Obama because of the state's unique primary and caucus system.

Clinton was opening Election Day in Houston, but then heading back to Ohio for more campaign events. She will await results in Columbus, the state capital, before returning to Washington.

Obama spent Monday campaigning in Texas, emphasizing his readiness to be commander in chief.

Agencies

(China Daily 03/05/2008 page12)