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Clinton back in race; McCain clinches Republican nomination

By Arun Kumar, IANS

Washington : Hillary Clinton shot back into the US presidential race with crucial victories in Ohio and Rhode Island, snapping Democratic rival Barack Obama’s streak of 11 victories as Republican John McCain clinched his party’s nomination.

Going into Super Tuesday II after 11 straight losses to Obama and trailing by over a 100 pledged delegates, Hillary Clinton was fighting a do or die battle to keep alive her campaign to be America’s first woman president.

Clinton’s victories in two of the four states with 370 delegates did not greatly reduce the gap with the frontrunner, but it brought her right back into the contest.

While Obama, vying to be the first black US chief executive, was still leading 1,424 to 1,341 in pledged delegates and super delegates, neither candidate was any closer to the 2,025 needed to win the party nomination.

Earlier in the evening, Clinton and Obama split a pair of New England states, with Clinton winning Rhode Island and Obama taking Vermont by a wide margin. Obama won the Vermont primary by about 22 percentage points. Clinton had a margin of about 17 percentage points in Rhode Island.

But the focus on Tuesday was fixed on Ohio and Texas, states that political experts had said were must-wins for Clinton to remain a viable candidate, or risk a rapid defection within her party.

Late into Tuesday night, Texas remained far too close to call. With 41 percent of Texas precincts reporting, Clinton had 50 percent of the vote, compared with 48 percent for Obama.

Speaking to supporters in Columbus, Ohio, Clinton immediately couched her victory as a comeback.

“Ohio has written a new chapter in this campaign and we’re just getting started,” she said. “For everyone who has stumbled but stood right back up, and for everyone who works hard and never gives up, this one is for you.”

As Clinton spoke, her crowd responded with chants of “Yes, she will!” — an apparently orchestrated response to Obama’s trademark “Yes, we can!”

But even before the polls closed, Obama’s aides said that given their lead in delegates over Clinton, it was not possible for her to catch up within the few remaining fights left.

“We are in the middle of a very close race right now in Texas – we may not even know the final result until morning,” Obama told supporters in San Antonio shortly before midnight. “No matter what happens tonight, we have nearly the same delegate lead that we did this morning, and we are on our way to winning this nomination.”

Obama had been hoping to firm up his frontrunner status in the Democratic race, but the victory in Ohio provides a crucial psychological boost for Clinton’s campaign, which has struggled to regroup from Obama’s recent spate of victories.

Early exit polls cited by the media showed that Democratic voters in Ohio and Texas were more concerned about the weakening economy than any other issue. Obama was considered more inspiring and more likely to win in the November presidential poll, but voters in each state were also more likely to say that Clinton is more qualified to be commander-in-chief.

Meanwhile, Vietnam war veteran John McCain clinched the Republican presidential nomination capturing all four primaries of the night. McCain’s sole remaining opponent, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, called him Tuesday evening to concede the race.

McCain told supporters that he accepted the nomination “with confidence, humility, and a great sense of responsibility” and acknowledged it was “an accomplishment that once seemed to more than a few doubters unlikely”.

The one-time insurgent, whose campaign was all but dead seven months ago, had been far ahead in the delegate count and been bestowed with the unofficial title of “likely Republican nominee” since his string of victories Feb 5. Tuesday’s results raised McCain’s projected delegate-count to 1,205, taking him over the 1,191 mark needed for the nomination.

In a sign that his party is now officially rallying around him, McCain will travel to the White House Wednesday morning for a formal endorsement by President George W. Bush, a Republican official said.

Huckabee said he called McCain to concede and offer his support. “It looks pretty apparent tonight that he will in fact achieve 1,191 delegates to become the nominee for our party,” he said.

“I extended him not only my congratulations, but my commitment to him and to the party to do everything possible to unite our party, but more importantly to unite our country so we can be the best nation we can be.”

Huckabee added: “We’ll be working on everything we can to help Senator McCain.”

McCain praised Huckabee as “a great and fine and decent American”.