- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has to decisively beat Sen. Barack Obama in the next big primaries in Texas and Ohio to keep the front-runner from taking a nearly insurmountable lead for the Democratic presidential nomination, party leaders say.

But with little more than a week to go before the two biggest primaries on March 4, Mr. Obama appeared to have momentum behind him, fueled by 11 straight primary and caucus victories, as polls showed Mrs. Clinton in a dead heat in Texas and her lead narrowing in Ohio.

With the freshman Illinois senator about 100 delegates ahead of her and with 444 delegates at stake in next week’s four contests, which also include Rhode Island and Vermont, party strategists said she cannot afford even a narrow win to remain competitive in the delegate count.

“Clearly, she needs to have a very good day on March 4 to regain her momentum,” said former Democratic National Committee chairman Steve Grossman, a superdelegate from Boston, who is supporting the former first lady’s candidacy. Other Democrats in both camps supported that view.

Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who has been campaigning virtually nonstop across the country for her, said last week she needed to win both Ohio and Texas to remain viable. “If she wins Texas and Ohio, I think she will be the nominee. If you don’t deliver for her, then I don’t think she can be,” he said while campaigning in Texas.

Meanwhile, Democratic Party analysts have been doing the delegate math on the remaining 14 contests, whose 972 pledged delegates by and large will be proportionately accorded to each candidate based on share of the vote in each congressional district. Some have concluded that at this point Mr. Obama has the clear advantage, although probably not by enough to reach the 2,025 needed to clinch the nomination without the aid of superdelegates.

“Most outside observers believe that Clinton must win both Texas and Ohio on March 4 and do so by margins wide enough to eat into Obama’s lead in pledged delegates. This will not be easy,” said party strategist Bill Galston, who was Mr. Clinton’s White House domestic policy adviser.

“If Obama’s margin on March 5 is at or near its current level, many of the … superdelegates who are now officially undecided will likely decide that it is time to bring this historic contest to a close,” Mr. Galston wrote in an analysis circulated among Democrats last week.

Mrs. Clinton is struggling in Texas, where 228 delegates are at stake, and where she was leading by double digits a week ago. Now, the RealClearPolitics running average of the latest polls in the Lone Star State have her statistically tied with Mr. Obama, leading by 48.8 percent to 46.0 percent. A Washington Post-ABC News poll showed the race virtually even at 48 percent to 47 percent.

In the battle for Ohio’s 161 delegates, Mrs. Clinton’s 21 percent lead earlier this month has shrunk to seven points (50 percent to 43 percent), according to a Post-ABC survey released Friday. A Rasmussen poll at the same time gave her an eight point lead, 48 percent to 40 percent, with 12 percent undecided.

Two American Research Group polls on Friday showed Mrs. Clinton leading in Rhode Island by 52 percent to 40 percent, and Mr. Obama ahead in Vermont by 60 percent to 34 percent.

Collectively, the polls showed Mr. Obama was leading among independents by double digits in Texas and Ohio, the fastest-growing voting bloc in the electorate. Independents made up 22 percent of the vote in the 22 contested Democratic primaries held thus far, and Mr. Obama has won them by a margin of 64 percent to 33 percent, according to a tabulation conducted by the Associated Press.

There were reports that some Republicans, whose presidential nomination race is all but won by Sen. John McCain, were choosing to vote in the Democratic primaries in Texas and Ohio to influence its outcome.

“There’s anecdotal evidence to support that, and there will be some folks who will cross over and vote in the Democratic primary,” said Hans Klingler, communications director for the Texas Republican Party. But he said there were a number of important Republican primary races for the Senate, House seats and other local contests, “so the crossover appeal just isn’t there for people to do that in droves.”

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