Time on Her Side: Obama Maintains Lead, but Clinton Might Have the Edge

The Clinton campaign plans to use the coming six-week gap in primary voting to aggressively push its case that Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., lacks the necessary experience to be president as the superdelegates loom by far as the most important voters in the race.

After Obama's Tuesday win in Mississippi, the strategy of defining the Illinois senator while the delegate count stays essentially frozen reflects a belief by Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign advisers — after withstanding perhaps the roughest month of Clinton's presidential campaign — that the New York senator now has a powerful ally on her side: time.

Waiting It Out

Mississippi marks the last primary or caucus for a six-week stretch — by far the longest pause in this year's nomination fight.

That gives Clinton a chance to battle Obama without time pressures that magnify every moment on the trail, allowing her to make a deliberate and methodical case in favor of her candidacy — and against Obama's.

"When a team comes from far behind to tie it, that team usually comes back and does well," said Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist with close ties to the Clinton campaign. "This period is going to cause people to really think through who is best able to match up with John McCain."

Obama has drawn considerable momentum in the race by winning caucuses and primaries.

His victory in Saturday's Wyoming caucus, coupled with another win in Mississippi, mean he's on track to reclaim most or all of the delegates he lost with Clinton's resounding victories in the far larger states of Ohio and Texas last week.

But Clinton's campaign has proved more adept at seizing control of the race when no one is voting.

Just in the past few weeks, Clinton has kept pressure on Obama with a stinging TV ad suggesting he's unprepared to serve as commander in chief; left him on the defensive over NAFTA and controversial comments made by a high-level foreign-policy adviser; and made headlines by suggesting publicly that Obama could be considering as her running mate.

Keying Up Pennsylvania Vote

The lull in the voting action is likely to include several debates in Pennsylvania, a format in which Clinton has typically excelled.

It will also allow the Clinton campaign to work to find a way for Florida and Michigan to have their votes count; both states favor Clinton demographically, and a solution that allows those state delegations to be seated at the convention is likely to cut into Obama's delegate lead.

And the next primary on the calendar -- Pennsylvania, April 22 -- is in a large, diverse state that's similar to others that have leaned toward Clinton.

Clinton has maintained a solid lead in Pennsylvania polls, and Obama's advisers acknowledge that their candidate is the underdog in the Keystone State.

A win there would add to Clinton's delegate count, pull her close in the overall popular vote and strengthen her campaign's argument that she's best suited to carry the important states on the presidential map.

"It could be, to some extent, a split decision," said Steve Grossman, a former Democratic National Committee chairman who is backing Clinton. "There should be no rush to judgment now, since we have a lot more evidence to gather."

Obama out Front

Obama remains the Democratic front-runner, by virtue of his delegate edge in addition to his overall advantage in the popular vote, and his superior fundraising capacity.

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