Clinton faces tough odds as Obama's lead widens

United States Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton faced increasing odds on Monday as a new opinion poll showed rival Barack Obama consolidating his nationwide support.

A Gallup tracking survey indicated the Illinois senator extending his lead over Clinton among Democrats nationally to 52% versus 42%, Obama’s largest lead of the year so far.

This marks the first time either candidate has held a double-digit lead over the other since early February, when Clinton led Obama by 11 percentage points, the polling firm pointed out.

On Sunday, the New York senator vowed to stay in the White House race to the bitter end as party elders floated ideas to avert a paralysing struggle between her and Barack Obama.

In a Washington Post interview, the former first lady said: “I know there are some people who want to shut this down and I think they are wrong.

“I have no intention of stopping until we finish what we started and until we see what happens in the next 10 contests, and until we resolve Florida and Michigan.”

The two states were stripped of their delegates to the Democrats’ August convention when they advanced their primaries into January. Clinton won both contests and needs the results to stand to have any chance of overhauling Obama’s lead in the national popular vote.

The Clinton-backing chief executive of Pennsylvania, which is the next state to vote on April 22, said it was a “disgrace” that Obama’s campaign was pressing for him to become the nominee with weeks of voting to go.

But Governor Edward Rendell, speaking on ABC television, also said he would “love” for the two star Democrats to join forces against Republican candidate John McCain for November’s general election.

Clinton, who is behind Obama in terms of elected delegates and states won, is under mounting pressure to bow out of the nominating race so that the Democrats can take the fight to McCain.

Obama, however, on Saturday said “Senator Clinton can run as long as she wants”.

Former president Bill Clinton said his wife could still win the Democratic race and insisted that party unity would prevail.

Meanwhile, former vice-president Al Gore, one of the party’s most senior statesmen, said on Sunday that he was steering clear of the nomination fight for now.

“I’m trying to stay out of it,” Gore told CBS television’s 60 Minutes news broadcast, even as fears continued to mount that the bitter nomination fight between Clinton and Obama threatens to tear the Democratic Party apart.

Tennessee’s Democratic governor, Phil Bredesen, meanwhile, returned to his idea of a gathering in mid-June of the nearly 800 party luminaries known as “superdelegates” who are likely to decide the nomination.

The superdelegates would convene after the last primaries in Montana and South Dakota on June 3 with the aim of crowning a nominee well before the August 25 to 28 convention in Denver, he said on Fox News on Sunday.

“I think it’s hurting us, hurting us tremendously,” he said of the protracted battle between Obama and Clinton, which polls suggest is helping drive up support for McCain.

Bredesen said the Democrats would eventually find a standard-bearer, “but if it’s the nominee of a divided party and an emotionally exhausted party, there’s just not time to conduct the kind of campaign we need to have”.

Obama, while refusing to back the calls for Clinton to quit, also said the nominee needed enough time before the convention to select a running mate and allow the party to regroup for the larger battle in November.

Clinton needs a big win in Pennsylvania to boost her argument that only she can win hefty states that the Democrats need to recapture the White House.—AFP

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