- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 5, 2008

WASHINGTON, Feb 6, 2008 (AFP) - Bone-weary from the most gruelling presidential quest ever, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama awoke to a daunting truth Wednesday — their battle is effectively starting over from scratch.

After 26 state contests including the mammoth Super Tuesday showdown, the two Democratic senators are in a virtual dead heat, and have to drag themselves back on the campaign trail for new nominating showdowns this weekend.

Super Tuesday shared the spoils: Clinton was the queen of the big states; and scooped up eight wins. Obama captured 13 lesser prizes, allowing both to claim legitimate road maps to the Democratic nomination.

Campaign spin meisters were already firing the first shots in a new public relations battle to set the terms of the second half of the nomination race.

“We have won more states, won more delegates, won more total votes than Senator Clinton,” said Obama campaign manager David Plouffe Wednesday.

“This speaks to Senator Obama’s strength in terms of our ability to capture this Democratic nomination.”

But the Clinton camp trumpeted her wins in large states, including California, New York and New Jersey, which form the backbone of any Democrat’s route to the White House in a matchup with Republicans.

The former first lady’s top strategist Mark Penn said her campaign had “broken” a wave of momentum that Obama had appeared to be building in the final days before Super Tuesday.

“Overall people rejected the increasingly establishment-oriented campaign of Senator Obama,” he said, noting the Illinois politician had won a slew of high-profile endorsements and had raised money fast.

“They accepted the substantive policy-oriented campaign of Senator Clinton and they did so on her tireless advocacy of solving the economy and healthcare,” Penn said.

Both sides highlighted advantages going into the struggle for more delegates who will anoint the nominee at the party’s August convention in Denver, with the senators locked in a virtual dead-heat in the tally.

Obama’s team is convinced the nominating calendar now favors him, with his huge, pulsating campaign rallies and building grass-roots movement.

“A month and a half is an eternity in politics generally. It’s certainly an eternity in this race especially,” Obama told reporters in a swift briefing.

“We feel confident that the wind is at our back.”

Next Tuesday’s primaries in Virginia, Maryland and Washington DC are rich in the highly educated white voters and African-Americans who make up his prime powerbase.

This weekend, the primary in Louisiana, and caucuses in Nebraska and Washington state are also being targeted by the Obama campaign.

The charismatic Illinois senator has another advantage: money.

Last month, Obama raised cash at the astounding rate of one million dollars per day, more than double the New York senator’s reported total of 13 million for January — allowing him to launch a huge television advertising offensive.

“Hillary Clinton has all the resources she needs to be competitive,” campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe said, however.

Even before Super Tuesday, the Clinton campaign was highlighting two huge nominating showdowns in Texas and Ohio on March 4.

After that, the race could extend to Pennsylvania, always a bellwether in US general elections, at the end of April.

If there is still no clear winner, the fight could degenerate into a squabble over “super-delegates” — the party luminaries who are not elected to the convention and can pick anyone they choose.

“And so for all of those who wish for a battle that goes to the convention, in terms of neither side definitively wrapping this up, you could be looking at that here,” Clinton communications chief Howard Wolfson said.

If the rivals are still neck and neck, the prospect of a floor fight looms at the August convention — the likes of which has not been seen for decades.

Clinton has called for weekly debates up to the March 4 battles, but Obama said while their campaign organizers were looking at the schedules, his main focus was getting out and meeting the voters.

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US-vote-2008-Democrats AFP

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