Obama’s momentum is a serious challenge to Clinton

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In politics, the operative rule to live by is -“it ain’t over till it’s over” – and the Democratic national convention is still six months away. Anything can happen.

But, and this is a BIG ‘but,’ with his blowout wins in Hawaii and Wisconsin’s open primary on Tuesday, Illinois Senator Barack Obama has now won ten contests in a row in the Presidential race against New York Senation Hillary Clinton, once considered the Democratic party’s “inevitable” nominee.

Obama won 58% of the vote in Wisconsin, one of the “whitest” states in the country, to Clinton’s 41 %.

He won by an even larger margin, 75% to Clinton’s 24% in Hawaii, Obama’s native state, where Chelsea Clinton campaigned furiously in the days leading up to the caucus.

“In a state in which nearly 9 in 10 Democratic voters are white, Obama won more than 6 in 10 of the votes of white men, while Clinton held only a narrow edge among white women,” the Washington Post reported.

“And he defeated her by double-digit margins among those voters with family incomes less than $50,000 and among those without college degrees.”

White women and lower-income groups have been Clinton’s base of support, ABC News points out.

“Barack Obama beat Hillary Clinton in some of her core support groups, trounced her on electability and rode broad support from independents to victory in Wisconsin,” according to ABC polling director Gary Langer.

“Clinton struggled in her base groups, barely winning white women, losing less-educated and lower-income voters, while Obama swept up younger voters, winning those under 30 by one of his biggest margins yet.”

Obama also now takes the lead in the all-important race for delegates with 94 delegates pledged to him at the Democratic National Convention in August, according to ABC’s delegate scorecard.

Obama now has 1,358 of the 2,025 delegates needed to win the nomination, compared with Clinton’s 1, 267 delegates.

Even before the Wisconsin race was called, Obama and Clinton were campaigning in the delegate-rich states of Texas and Ohio for the March 4th primaries.

“Houston, I think we’ve achieved lift-off here,” Obama said in his long acceptance speech, during which he framed part of his response to attacks from Clinton, and more recently, John McCain.

Obama also mentioned gays, but as scape-goated victims, rather than part of his laundry list of demographics.

“Now some are suggesting that I must be naive, that if you talk about hope it means that you’re fuzzy-headed, you’re not realistic, you’re peddling in false hopes, you need a reality check,” Obama said.

“The implication is, is that if you talk about hope that you must be passive and you’re just waiting for good things to happen, and you don’t realise how mean and tough the world can be.

“But understand that’s not what hope is. Hope is not blind optimism. Hope is not ignoring or being ignorant of the challenges that stand between you and your dreams,” Obama said.

“I know how easy it is for politicians to turn us on each other, to use immigrants or gay people or folks who aren’t like us as scapegoats for what they do.

“But I also know this. I know this because I have fought on the streets as an organiser, I have fought in the courts as a civil rights attorney, I have fought in the legislature, and I’ve won some battles, but I’ve also lost some, because good intentions aren’t always enough.

“They have to be fortified by political will and political power.

“But I also know this, Houston: that nothing worthwhile in this country has ever happened except somebody somewhere was willing to hope.”

But Clinton isn’t giving up and drew sharper distinctions between herself and Obama in terms of who is more experienced to take on McCain and, beyond that, a dangerous world.

“People are struggling. They’re working the day shift, the night shift.

“They’re trying to get by without health care. They’re just one paycheck away from losing their homes. They cannot afford four more years of a President who just doesn’t see or hear them at all,” Clinton told a rally in Youngstown, Ohio.

“They need a President ready on day one to be commander-in-chief, ready to manage our economy, and ready to beat the Republicans in November.

“With your help, I will be that President. This is the choice we face.

“One of us is ready to be commander-in-chief in a dangerous world.

“Every day, around the world, situations arise that present new threats and new opportunities, situations like the change of leadership in Cuba today.

“I have served on the Armed Services Committee. I’ve been to more than 80 countries, worked with world leaders, stood up to the Chinese government to declare that women’s rights are human rights.

“And I am ready to end this war in Iraq and this era of cowboy diplomacy.

“I will restore our leadership and moral authority in the world without delays, without on-the-job training, from day one. One of us has a plan to provide health care for every single American, no one left out.

“And I believe, I believe health care is a right, not a privilege.

“And I will not rest until every American is covered. That is my solemn promise to you.”

But, Patrick Healy and Jeff Zeleny write in The New York Times, “latest losses narrowed even further Mrs Clinton’s options and leaves her little, if any, room for error. Her road to victory is now a cliff walk.”

Ohio and Texas are now “must-wins” for Clinton.

“The Democratic nomination is now Barack Obama’s to lose,” the Associated Press’ Ron Fournier writes.

“Hillary Rodham Clinton can’t win the nomination unless Obama makes a major mistake or her allies reveal something damaging about the Illinois senator’s background.

“Don’t count her out quite yet, but Wisconsin revealed deep and destructive fractures in the Clinton coalition. It’s panic-button time.”

AP declared that Clinton is “fading” in the race. The Clinton campaign, however, is considering all its options before the convention, including the seating of delegates from Florida and Michigan, two states she won, though their delegates were discounted by the Democratic National Committee as punishment for moving their primaries up in violation of DNC rules.

Nonetheless, the Clinton campaign launched a new website, DelegateHub.com, to make their case.

The momentum, however, continues in Obama’s favour, with the important International Brotherhood of Teamsters endorsing him on Wednesday.

That gives Obama even more support among blue collar workers, a group seen as supporting Clinton, who also has union support.

Obama is also ahead in the fundraising sweepstakes.

Federal Election Commission reports for January indicate Obama raised $36 million (£18.4), compared to $13.5 million for Clinton and $12 million for the presumptive GOP nominee, Arizona Senator John McCain, according to The New York Times.

“For the first time, considering everything together, topped off by the win in Wisconsin, the odds very heavily favour Obama,” Steve Smith, Obama’s openly gay deputy political director in California, told GayWired.com.

“I’ve always believed it was possible. But this is the first time I really believe it is very, very likely that he will win the nomination. It’s now Obama’s to lose.”

Obama’s fundraising prowess (90% of the $28 million he brought in online was from donations of $100 or less, suggesting those donors could be tapped for more contributions) allowed the Illinois Senator to outspend Clinton in Wisconsin, where her campaign started late.

But Obama’s financial blowout also provided an opening shot for McCain, who also won big in Wisconsin, beating former Arkansas Governor Mike Huackabee and Texas Representative Ron Paul in the Republican primary with 55% of the vote.

McCain wasted no time in attacking Obama on his lack of experience.

“I will fight every moment of every day in this campaign to make sure Americans are not deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change that promises no more than a holiday from history and a return to the false promises and failed policies of a tired philosophy that trusts in government more than people,” McCain said in his victory speech.

“Our purpose is to keep this blessed country free, safe, prosperous and proud.

“And the changes we offer to the institutions and policies of government will reflect and rely upon the strength, industry, aspirations and decency of the people we serve.

“We live in a world of change, some of which holds great promise for us and all mankind and some of which poses great peril.”

And on Wednesday, McCain accused Obama of “double speak” for apparently flip-flopping on his pledge to accept the limits of public financing if he becomes the Democratic Presidential nominee.

Clinton will no doubt take up issues of the economy, the Federal Reserve lowered its forecast for the US economy and now predicts slower economic growth, higher unemployment, higher rates of inflation, national security, (given the recent election in Pakistan where ruling head Mushariff now refuses to recognise the results that ousted him) and campaign finance reform at the two debates before the March 4th primaries.

CNN will hold a debate in Texas tomorrow at 8:00pm Eastern time, and MSNBC will hold a Democratic debate on Thursday, also starting at 8:00pm Eastern time.

Karen Ocamb is the news editor for IN Los Angeles magazine.

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