US campaign frenzy ahead of Super Tuesday

White House hopefuls have launched a frantic blitz with the stakes enormous heading into “Super Tuesday” and the home stretch of the costliest and longest United States election campaign in history.

Democratic rivals Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were criss-crossing the country over the weekend, touring places from California to New York and points in between ahead of Tuesday’s primaries in nearly two dozen states.

“No matter what happens, I want everyone of you with a child or a grandchild to look into the eyes of that precious child and say, ‘Yes, you can be whatever you want to be in America,’” Clinton told exuberant supporters in San Jose, California, late on Friday.

A new national poll out Friday showed Obama gaining on the New York senator in the historic 2008 White House race as he bids to be the country’s first black president.

According to the Gallup poll, the Illinois senator was trailing by just three percentage points with 41% of the vote to 44% for Clinton, who is also on a historic quest to be the first woman president.

The figures, which were within the poll’s three-point margin of error, suggested Obama was mopping up spare votes after former senator John Edwards quit the race.

But other polls by Fox News and Rasmussen showed Clinton holding a six-point national margin over Obama.

Hot on the Democrats’ heels were Republican hopefuls John McCain and Mitt Romney. Arizona Senator McCain was to address rallies in Illinois, Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia before arriving back in Washington late on Saturday.

The same Gallup poll gave McCain a 15-point lead with 39% to 24% for Romney, the former Massachusetts governor. Mike Huckabee was trailing third on 17%.

Economic troubles

All the campaigns took note of economic trouble on Friday after 17 000 job losses were announced in January, the first monthly drop in US job creation since 2003.

“We will make this economy work again for hard-working middle-class families,” Clinton said, warning that the US was sliding into its second recession under Republican President George Bush.

Obama assailed two rounds of hefty tax cuts pushed through by Bush that were initially opposed by McCain, who now wants to make them permanent.

“Well, I haven’t changed my mind.
They have been an economic disaster for America, and I will end them when I am president,” the Illinois Senator said at his own economy-themed rally in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The Bush administration has “landed us in record debt that is controlled by foreign countries and will have to be paid off by our children for generations to come”.

Clinton (60) and Obama (46) are finely poised in the number of delegates they each hold so far for the party’s August nominating convention, which will pick the Democratic candidate for November’s general election.

Pollsters suggested that even after Super Tuesday, there might still be no clear Democratic front-runner given the complexity of the proportional election in the states up for grabs.

The left-wing internet-based pressure group MoveOn.org, which counts about 3,2-million members, meanwhile endorsed Obama, as did the Los Angeles Times.

In a glowing appraisal, the liberal-leaning daily in California’s biggest city said it preferred Obama to Clinton because of his promise, and his judgement in opposing the Iraq invasion from the start.

That judgement call was pushed strongly by Obama at the 18th and last Democratic debate before Super Tuesday when he went head-to-head with Clinton in Hollywood late on Thursday.

Clinton voted in 2002 to authorise military force against Iraq, a vote that she has refused to renounce, arguing it was a vote for more diplomacy that had been abused by Bush.

For the Republican ticket, the Los Angeles Times endorsed McCain, who told a rally in Missouri that the economy was “one of the biggest problems” the nation was facing.

“Americans are hurting and we know that,” McCain said, also stressing his determination to take the fight to Islamic terrorism.

The Vietnam War hero won a major boost ahead of Super Tuesday with endorsements from California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and ex-New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who quit the White House race on Wednesday.—Sapa-AFP

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