Clinton has one last chance to stop Obama

NEW YORK Wed Feb 20, 2008 8:19am EST

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's loss to rival Barack Obama in Wisconsin and Hawaii on Tuesday leaves her one last chance to stop her surging opponent, in the next contests in Texas and Ohio.

Clinton has now lost 10 voting contests in a row and her one-time front-running campaign is scrambling to raise doubts about first-term Illinois Sen. Obama's level of experience and his tendency to rely more on stylish oratory than substance.

"It's about picking a president who relies not just on words, but on work, hard work, to get America back to work -- someone who's not just in the speeches business, but will get America back in the solutions business," Clinton said in Ohio.

The New York senator and former first lady is fighting for her political life and in danger of being knocked out of the race by Obama unless she can pull off major victories on March 4 in Texas and Ohio.

Analysts said Clinton needs to do well in the last two debates of the Democratic campaign, on Thursday in the Texas capital of Austin and next week in Ohio, to slow Obama's momentum toward the Democratic nomination for November's election.

Nathaniel Persily, a political expert and professor at Columbia University of Law, said Clinton not only has to win both states, but win them big enough to take a majority of the nominating delegates, given Obama's overall lead in delegates.

Polls show tight races in both states.

"If she loses those states, then she's lost," Persily said, adding that it is still possible she can pull it off.

IN A HOLE

But Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta said the hole Clinton is in is "huge, and getting bigger."

In losing Wisconsin, Clinton suffered the indignity of having the Republican opponent she relishes running against, Arizona Sen. John McCain, look past her to launch a withering attack on Obama.

"I will fight every moment of every day in this campaign to make sure Americans are not deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change," McCain said in celebrating his victory in Wisconsin over former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

What a difference a year makes. When the campaign for the Democratic nomination began in earnest a year ago, Clinton was the runaway front-runner, with a huge advantage in money and the added benefit of being able to rely on her husband, former President Bill Clinton, for political advice.

Obama's ability to raise big sums from a large number of donors eventually eroded Clinton's money advantage, and his calls for change in the way Washington works has put him on the brink of a remarkable victory.

The two campaigns had bickered over whether Obama had plagiarized language from a supporter, Deval Patrick, raising tensions between the two camps in the past 48 hours.

Clinton pointedly refused to concede defeat to Obama in her Ohio speech Tuesday night.

In Houston, Obama upstaged Clinton by starting his Wisconsin victory speech before Clinton had concluded hers, meaning some television networks abruptly switched from Clinton to show Obama.

Obama already sounded like he was looking past Clinton, accusing McCain of wanting to continue the policies of President George W. Bush and saying the 71-year-old senator "represents the policies of yesterday, and we want to be the party of tomorrow."

And Obama said he realized "it is going to take more than big rallies, it is going to require more than rousing speeches" and policy papers to win.

"It is going to require something more, because the problem that we face in America today is not a lack of good ideas, it's that Washington has become a place where good ideas go to die," he said.

(To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/)

(Editing by Chris Wilson)

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