Super Tuesday Sequel: Obama-Clinton Showdown Looms in Texas, Ohio

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So the winning streak's into double digits, and this is bitter cheese for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton: Voters in Wisconsin (white of skin, blue of collar, with green on their minds) flocking to the candidacy of Sen. Barack Obama.

That sound Clinton heard, while rushing out of town to leave the site of her latest defeat, was the crashing down of her last pillars of stalwart support -- less-educated white voters, voters favoring electability, those worried about the economy, union members, even women.

"Barack Obama beat Hillary Clinton in some of her core support groups, trounced her on electability and rode broad support from independents to victory in Wisconsin," ABC polling director Gary Langer writes.

"Clinton struggled in her base groups -- barely winning white women, losing less-educated and lower-income voters -- while Obama swept up younger voters, winning those under 30 by one of his biggest margins yet."

Wisconsin (Clinton territory by demography, and looking scarily similar to Ohio) handed Obama another lopsided victory -- 17 points -- and Hawaii came through as expected in landslide fashion in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.

Obama, D-Ill., controls the race with an edge of 94 convention delegates (and growing), according to ABC's delegate scorecard -- on top of the money, the momentum, and the enthusiasm.

"Houston, I think we've achieved lift-off here," Obama told supporters in a (long) speech Tuesday night, with a crowd of 19,000 drowning out his voice.

(And what message might he have been sending by taking the stage well before Clinton was through?)

Camp Clinton called it like this -- her advisers said all along that the weeks after Super Tuesday were going to be rough -- but 10 straight wins in a 14-day span has got to sting.

Clinton, D-N.Y., sought to reframe the race (again) as the polls closed in Wisconsin, heading to Ohio with a message she's set to reiterate as she returns home to regroup (briefly) in New York early Wednesday: "One of us is ready to be commander-in-chief in a dangerous world," she said, again looking forward instead of making even brief mention of her latest defeat (though not quite making a new argument).

"Mrs. Clinton wasted no time in signaling that she would now take a tougher line against Mr. Obama -- a recognition, her advisers said, that she must act to alter the course of the campaign and define Mr. Obama on her terms," Patrick Healy and Jeff Zeleny write in The New York Times.

"Her latest losses narrowed even further Mrs. Clinton's options and leaves her little, if any, room for error. Her road to victory is now a cliff walk."

As all eyes turned to Ohio and Texas, the battle over delegates is extending well beyond voting booths. The Clinton campaign on Wednesday launched a new Website, http://www.delegatehub.com/, to make its case on delegates. Clinton's magic delegate number: 2,208, not 2,025, since Clinton wants Florida and Michigan to count, "both in the interest of fundamental fairness and honoring the spirit of the Democrats' 50-state strategy."

And this (which we'll hear again): "FACT: Florida and Michigan should count, both in the interest of fundamental fairness and honoring the spirit of the Democrats' 50-state strategy. An important part of the debate over delegates is the role of Florida and Michigan."

Also: "The race is currently a virtual tie, with the campaigns now separated by a small handful of delegates, barely 1% of all the delegates to the Democratic Convention." (It's actually more like 2 percent, though we get the drift.)

(Here's a game -- how many "facts" on this new site are actually "fictions"?)

But the margin of victory in Wisconsin was dispiriting to Clinton insiders; post-game spin notwithstanding, she did not write off the state, and there was no reason on paper that she couldn't defeat Obama there.

"It's going to be a rough day tomorrow with party activists and leaders," one Clinton insider tells ABC's Kate Snow. "We now have two weeks and two debates to win the big states."

"His victory was big and broad," Craig Gilbert writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Two, it came in a 50/50 battleground -- the closest state in the country in 2004 -- that is a virtual must-win for Democrats in November. Three, it came in the kind of environment that Clinton herself has said provides added legitimacy -- a big-turnout primary, rather than the kind of low-turnout caucuses that Obama has dominated this year by out-organizing his opponents."

Obama is the frontrunner, but that doesn't even tell the whole story of the position he's in. "The Democratic nomination is now Barack Obama's to lose," AP's Ron Fournier writes. "Hillary Rodham Clinton can't win the nomination unless Obama makes a major mistake or her allies reveal something damaging about the Illinois senator's background. Don't count her out quite yet, but Wisconsin revealed deep and destructive fractures in the Clinton coalition. It's panic-button time."

Here's one form the button is taking: "Allies of Hillary Clinton plan an expensive, stealth campaign to buttress her standing in the must-win states of Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania," The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder reports.

"They're canvassing Clinton donors for pledges of up to $100,000 in the hope of raising at least $10M by the end of next week. The money will be placed in the account of a political committee organized under section 527 of the tax code."

The San Francisco-based 527 will be called the American Leadership Project, ABC's Jake Tapper reports.

But once the wave has formed, it's hard to turn the tide. Obama "broke deep into Clinton's base," Paul Kane and Jon Cohen write in The Washington Post.

"In a state in which nearly 9 in 10 Democratic voters are white, Obama won more than 6 in 10 of the votes of white men, while Clinton held only a narrow edge among white women. And he defeated her by double-digit margins among those voters with family incomes less than $50,000 and among those without college degrees."

The New York Daily News' Thomas M. DeFrank: "Finally, there's some happy news for Hillary Clinton: The most abysmal stretch of the primary season for her limping candidacy is over. Unfortunately, the damage may be irreparable."

"These are real danger signs for Sen. Clinton," ABC's George Stephanopoulos reported on "Good Morning America" on Wednesday. "It's not going to be enough for her to win now in Texas and Ohio. In order to catch up in the delegates now, she's going to have to beat him by the kind of landslides he's been beating her. . . . He's been blowing her out across the board."

Sorry, Chelsea -- that dance didn't pay off. Obama swamped Clinton 76-24 in his native Hawaii, "as an unprecedented turnout at the Hawaii Democratic caucus overwhelmed precinct volunteers and party officials," per the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

As Clinton looks for a new way to blunt Obama's rise, he's getting stronger. His latest wins "demonstrated a widening coalition to his candidacy," Mike Dorning writes in the Chicago Tribune. "He added to his base of support among the well-educated, the young and African-Americans by also prevailing among blue-collar workers in an overwhelmingly white state."

All of which makes the argument Clinton is trying to construct -- that he's all talk, and that his talk isn't even his own -- delicate and dubious.

But she's got an opening here. ABC's Jake Tapper reports on another example of strikingly similar words emanating from the mouths of the two David Axelrod clients -- Obama and Gov. Deval Patrick, D-Mass.

And the words were being borrowed even before Patrick claims to have recommended the new avenue of pushback to Obama, Tapper writes.

Obama is handing Clinton more ammunition. "Obama seemed to borrow anew on Tuesday at an outdoor rally in San Antonio -- this time from former foe John Edwards," Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post. But "Obama had a ready answer for the questions about his originality: another big primary win."

Maybe it will amount to nothing, but to a Clinton campaign that's looking for forced and unforced errors over the next two weeks, the fact that the flap exists to exploit provides reason for (to borrow a word) hope.

"What is surprising is that Obama's circle of advisors -- and Obama -- didn't see this coming and they should have," Lynn Sweet writes in the Chicago Sun-Times. "While this controversy is unlikely to be decisive -- it is distracting. And it was avoidable."

"Perhaps more damaging to Mr. Obama, who built his candidacy around the notion of change, is the risk of looking inauthentic," Elizabeth Holmes writes in The Wall Street Journal.

Speaking of inauthentic -- how's this for a Clinton whopper? "Look, it's not us making this charge. It's the media," she told a TV reporter in Hawaii, on the subject of supposed Obama plagiarism. (Did she not know about the conference call arranged by her campaign, or about the handy YouTube links e-mailed around?)

And while we're straining credulity . . . Clinton's new ad extends her appeal to the working class: "She's worked the night shift, too," the voice-over says.

The backup for that claim? They don't roll out cots for senators for daytime naps. (And we're pretty sure she pulled all-nighters at Wellesley, too.) It turns out that -- actually, technically -- Clinton never worked the "night shift," her campaign concedes. "As the image on the screen makes pretty clear it is a reference to her habit of working late into the night," Clinton spokesman Jay Carson tells ABC's Kate Snow.

In any event, Clinton has an ally in making her case against Obama: Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. The most superstitious of candidates is calling himself the Republican nominee now -- and with that, he's training his fire on his likeliest general-election opponent.

"I will work hard to make sure Americans aren't deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change," McCain said (in a line Clinton may yet want to swipe herself), per ABC's Ron Claiborne and Teddy Davis. Said McCain spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker: "A preview of things to come."

In case that wasn't juicy enough, McCain mentioned the "confused leadership of an inexperienced candidate," as he "began his national case against the Democrats," per Greg J. Borowski of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

On "Good Morning America" Wednesday, McCain sought to clarify his comments about the length of US troop presence in Iraq: "I don't think we're going to have a war there [for 100 years]," he said. "The US could have a military presence anywhere in the world for a long period of time. . . . It is a gross distortion to say that I think we will be in a war for a long period of time."

Cindy McCain is getting in on the act, too. "I don't know about you, if you heard those words earlier, I'm very proud of my country," she said Tuesday in Milwaukee, in a fairly direct swipe at Michelle Obama's comments in the same city a day earlier, per ABC's Bret Hovell and Sunlen Miller.

McCain's simple declaration from Tuesday capped a long, hard road: "I will be our party's nominee for president of the United States." (And his speech seemed honed for the occasion -- and heavy on foreign affairs -- in stark contrast to Obama.)

One source of optimism: He had his best night of the campaign so far with conservative voters -- a sign, perhaps, that noses are sufficiently held. "McCain's win signaled a coalescing of a Republican electorate that has struggled for a year to find a candidate it likes," Glenn Kessler and Michael Shear write in The Washington Post.

"He posted one of his best showings among GOP voters, beating Huckabee by 22 points. . . . Conservative voters split about evenly, a stark improvement for McCain."

Not that former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., seems to notice: "Let me assure you that if it were ego, my ego doesn't enjoy getting these kinds of evenings when we don't win the primary elections," he said Tuesday evening, per ABC's Kevin Chupka. "It's gotta be something other than that, and it is. It's about convictions, it's about principles I dearly, dearly believe in."

For those interested in symbols, Huckabee visits the Alamo on Thursday. "People sometimes think of the Alamo as a defeat, but it actually was the springboard to Texas victory and independence," Huckabee said.

After Sen. Clinton's morning fundraiser in New York, both Clintons crisscross Texas on Wednesday, and Obama and Huckabee also camp out in the Lone Star State. McCain spends his day in Ohio. Get all the candidates' schedules in The Note's "Sneak Peek."

Also in the news:

Obama gave a brief interview to the San Antonio Express-News, and called for two higher taxes in the midst of seven answers. On education funding: "Some states want to increase their state income tax, which seems a little more equitable than the property tax, and that's an option but it isn't something the federal government can control." (Texas has no income tax.) On energy: "What we ought to tax is dirty energy, like coal and, to a lesser extent, natural gas."

In Texas, Obama is talking electability: "I think I can affect independents and Republicans in a way she can't," he said in San Antonio.

In Ohio, Clinton's message is the economy. In an interview with the Dayton Daily News, "the focus kept coming around to one main issue: the economy. Clinton drew similarities between Ohio's difficult economic conditions with those of upstate New York. Cities like Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester have suffered job and population loss. If elected, she said she'd employ the lessons learned representing those cities in the U.S. Senate for the good of Ohio and other economically troubled regions."

Also: "Clinton covered issues as disparate as the Air Force's need for new aircraft to her love of the TV show 'Grey's Anatomy,' which she said she used to TiVo before the writers strike."

Driven off-message by the Politico column about possible delegate-poaching, the Clinton campaign was unequivocal on Tuesday: "We have not, are not, and will not pursue the pledged delegates of Barack Obama," communications director Howard Wolfson said. ABC's Teddy Davis talks to a senior Clinton adviser who acknowledges any such effort would likely have been fruitless: "They basically are wholly owned real estate," the adviser said.

On the superdelegates, House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., is standing by Clinton -- but he won't hold his colleagues to the same standard. Rangel's permission slip: "If you're going to use your best judgment, you've got to take into consideration what your constituents are saying," he tells the New York Daily News' Ken Bazinet.

Writes Bazinet: "Rangel expects superdelegates in Congress to go with the candidate who amasses the most delegates through primaries and caucuses, even if they endorsed the other candidate."

With January FEC reports due on Wednesday, the Clinton campaign sought to assure reporters and supporters that money is no longer an issue: They raised $15 million in 15 days. (One way to make those January numbers look less bad.)

David Axelrod says he's not the source of the shared Patrick-Obama lines: "One thing I emphatically deny is authorship of those lines or any of the great lines that Barack and Deval Patrick use," he told the Chicago Tribune's John McCormick and Christi Parsons. "I had to come to grips early on in my relationship with Barack Obama that he was a far better writer than me, and the same is true with Deval Patrick."

Democrats haven't settled their fight yet, but the DNC is picking up its anti-McCain efforts, The Hill's Sam Youngman writes. "DNC officials said this is just the start of an increasingly intense effort to define the presumptive Republican nominee as advocating the same policies as President Bush on issues from Iraq and immigration to earmarks even as the McCain campaign shifts from primary to general election mode," Youngman writes. "Democrats also hope to portray a McCain presidency as bad for the economy, which polls show is an issue increasingly important to voters."

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has a new Web ad up, in a fall preview of a line of attack -- it's McCain, Collins, Sununu, Coleman, and McConnell, in words they'd rather not see repeated about the Iraq war.

And the National Republican Senatorial Committee has a new fundraising campaign launched on Wednesday: "Two Seats."

The kicker:

"We're having a little siesta out here -- a little party." -- Barack Obama, flashing some rusty (or sleepy) Spanish.

"This mistake was inexcusable." -- MSNBC spokesman Jeremy Gaines, after his station was the latest to make the Osama/Obama mistake.

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