/ 11 February 2008

Clinton shaken as Obama takes lead

Hillary Clinton shook up her campaign as Democratic rival Barack Obama overtook in the race for delegates to win the party nomination for the White House.

Obama is expected to extend his lead in the so-called Potomac Primary on Tuesday after defeating Clinton in Washington state, Louisiana, Maine, Nebraska, and the United States Virgin Islands on the weekend.

Rattled by her defeats, the former first lady replaced her campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, with long-time Clinton insider Maggie Williams.

Clinton had been hoping for a good showing in Maine on Sunday after earlier winning neighbouring New Hampshire. She ended the day with eight delegates against 13 for Obama, according to independent poll-tracker RealClearPolitics.com.

A candidate needs backing from 2 025 delegates to be formally crowned the presidential nominee at the party’s convention in August.

Early on Monday, RealClearPolitics had Obama narrowly ahead in the total delegate count, 1 137 to 1 134 for Clinton.

Obama’s campaign manager, David Plouffe, said however that the 46-year-old Illinois senator still faces an uphill battle.

”The Clintons are far better known and have a political machine that’s been honed over two decades,” Plouffe said in a statement released late on Sunday.

”But the more voters get to know Obama and his message of change, the more they support him, which bodes well for the upcoming primaries.”

Obama is tipped to win on Tuesday in Virginia, Maryland and Washington DC, dubbed the Potomac Primary for the river that snakes through all three.

Polls have shown Clinton may expect better support on the March 4 vote in the delegate-rich states of Texas and Ohio. Wisconsin, which votes on February 19, also has a lot of delegates.

The campaign shuffle was another sign of vulnerability in the Clinton camp after she was earlier forced to draw $5-million from her own pocket to shore up her campaign.

If elected on November 4, Clinton (60) would be the first woman in the Oval Office, while Obama would be the first black US president.

Both candidates were out campaigning on Sunday in Virginia, and its Potomac River neighbours.

”I have the ability to bring people together,” Obama told a roaring crowd at a school gym in Alexandria, Virginia, an affluent suburb of Washington. ”If you will vote for me on Tuesday … we will transform this country.”

Usually of little consequence in past primaries, the three Tuesday votes have become key pieces on the electoral chessboard since the deadlocked Super Tuesday contests on February 5.

Virginia is the biggest prize on Tuesday with 83 delegates, while Maryland has 70. The US capital, a separate federal district, offers 15.

Among rival Republicans, John McCain has yet to convince the party’s core conservatives, as highlighted when he lost on Saturday in the states of Kansas and Louisiana to Mike Huckabee.

Even though McCain is the most likely party nominee after main rival Mitt Romney quit the race last week, Baptist minister Huckabee has vowed to fight on despite having little chance of overcoming McCain’s huge delegate lead.

”The fact they’re blowing against me hardly motivates me to quit,” he told reporters in Washington. ”It motivates me to play harder.”

Analysts say Huckabee’s refusal to pull out of the race could deepen party divisions between conservatives and Republicans ready to back McCain.

A Vietnam War hero, McCain (71) has 724 delegates to 234 for Huckabee. A total of 1 191 are needed for the Republican party nomination.

President George Bush, who defeated McCain for the nomination in 2000, told Fox news on Sunday that he would help his one-time rival if he secures the nomination.

But he added: ”I think that if John’s the nominee, he has got some convincing to do to convince people that he is a solid conservative.”

Separately, Obama on Sunday won a Grammy Award in the music industry’s category for best spoken word album for the audio version of his book The Audacity of Hope. He beat former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter for the award.

It is Obama’s second Grammy — in 2005 he won the award for his first book, Dreams From My Father. — AFP