Obama and Clinton gird for new day of destiny

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton faced their latest day of destiny on Tuesday as Democrats in Indiana and North Carolina geared up to vote in the party’s electrifying presidential race.

Opinion polls pointed to another messy draw on the biggest single day of voting left in the Democrats’ nominating epic, with Obama tipped to win the North Carolina primary and Clinton ahead in Indiana.

The rivals raced through a frenetic dawn-to-midnight campaign swing in the two states but both signalled the contest would drag on through the bitter end of the primary calendar on June 3, in Montana and South Dakota.

“I think, at that point, everybody will have voted, and we will be in a position to make a decision about who the Democratic nominee is going to be,” said Obama, who leads overall but has failed to land a knockout blow.

Analysts say Clinton (60) needs to take the rustbelt state of Indiana to at least halt a flow of Democratic “superdelegates” to Obama and stay in the race.

The New York senator boiled her stump speech into a series of bullet points implying Obama (46) was too inexperienced to meet economic and foreign policy challenges.

“Think about who you believe, think about who you can count on,” she told supporters at a fire station in one of Indiana’s Chicago suburbs.

Clinton’s camp admits she cannot overhaul the Illinois senator in the count of pledged delegates who will formally anoint the nominee at the Democratic convention in August.

So she is pinning her hopes on a collapse in Obama’s support, hoping to persuade the nearly 800 superdelegates, who look set to have the casting vote, that he cannot beat Republican John McCain in November.

Tuesday’s battles were likely to shed light on whether Obama, vowing to become America’s first black president, has been damaged by the fall-out of racially tinged remarks by his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright.

On the final stretch of campaigning, the two rivals fought a vicious television advertising war.

“What’s happened to Barack Obama?” asked a Clinton ad, focusing on his dismissal of her plan for a temporary moratorium in gasoline taxes, but also referring to his turmoil-wracked April.

In Indiana, a rolling average of polls by RealClearPolitics.com gave Clinton a five-point lead over Obama—about 49% to 44%. In North Carolina, which has a large black population, Obama was up seven, 50% to 43%.

Combined, the two states were electing 187 pledged delegates on Tuesday—115 in North Carolina and 72 in Indiana. After Tuesday, 217 elected delegates will be up for grabs in the remaining six contests.

The day’s voting was to begin in parts of Indiana at 6am local time and close in North Carolina at 8.30pm.

RealClearPolitics gives Obama 1 491 pledged delegates from all the races so far to Clinton’s 1 337.
Neither can reach the winning line of 2 025 without backing from the superdelegates, grandees who are free to vote either way.

Clinton’s chief strategist, Geoff Garin, predicted that Tuesday’s results would be “a heck of a lot better than things looked for us a month ago in each of these states”.

But the Obama campaign remained confident that whatever the outcome from the two states, and despite his recent travails, the Illinois senator remained the prohibitive favourite to be crowned the Democratic standardbearer.

“I just think Senator Obama is the future of the Democratic Party, and I think he’s the future of our country,” Indiana Congressman Baron Hill, who is a superdelegate, told MSNBC.—AFP

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