Hillary Clinton survives to fight another day

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : Hillary Clinton vowed to stay in the White House race after a narrow projected victory in Indiana even as Democratic party nomination frontrunner Barack Obama widened his lead with a massive win in the North Carolina party primary.

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A relatively small 52-48 percent lead in another do-or-die battle Tuesday blunted the former first lady’s argument that she is better placed to beat Republican John McCain in the November presidential poll than Obama who has found it hard to win over white working class voters in bigger states.

Clinton, however, vowed to keep running in the seemingly unending Democratic contest.

“Not too long ago my opponent made a prediction. He said I would probably win Pennsylvania. He would probably win in North Carolina. And Indiana would be a tiebreaker. Well, we’ve broken the tie, and thanks to you it’s full speed on to the White House,” she told supporters in Indianapolis Tuesday night, but pledged to work for the eventual Democratic nominee “no matter what happens”.

Working to build on the momentum of big wins in Ohio and Pennsylvania, Clinton had presented a measure of her more populist pitch and efforts to paint Obama as an elitist who fails to appreciate the hardships facing working-class Americans.

But ending a big-state losing streak going back more than a month, Obama’s 56-44 percent victory in North Carolina helped him pad his 1,745 to 1,608 lead in delegates who would pick the party nominee at a convention in August.

Obama also enjoys a popular vote margin of roughly 500,000 and has won 30 contests to 15 for Clinton. Either candidate is unlikely to gather 2,025 delegate votes needed to secure the nomination, leaving the decision to nearly 800 superdelegates – elected party officials free to back any candidate.

In a victory speech in Raleigh, Obama made clear that North Carolina had not been the “game changer” that Clinton had predicted it would be.

“There were those who were saying North Carolina would be a game changer in this election,” Obama said. “What North Carolina decided is the only game that needs changing is the one in Washington DC.”

Up for grabs Tuesday were a total of 187 pledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention – 115 from North Carolina and 72 from Indiana, to be distributed between the two candidates in proportion to their votes.

Exit polls indicated economy dominated the list of voter concerns in both Indiana and North Carolina. More than six in 10 voters said the economy was the most important issue facing the country – the highest percentage in any state that has voted to date.

Both Clinton and Obama focussed heavily on the economy in the final days of the campaign, arguing that they had the better understanding of the economic woes of middle-class voters.

Tuesday’s results not only failed to alter the math of the nomination fight, but also dashed Clinton’s campaign’s hopes of forcing super-delegates and the media to reassess the race with a convincing win in Indiana and a stronger-than-expected showing in North Carolina.

Obama, who has weathered a barrage of negative news coverage since losing primaries in Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island March 4, too had a lot going in Tuesday’s poll. The re-emergence of Wright, the controversial Chicago pastor whom Obama rebuked but did not disavow earlier in the campaign, has forced the Illinois senator to once again address an issue that his team had hoped had gone away.

After Wright’s media tour last week, which included racially divisive comments during a fiery question and answer session at the National Press Club, Obama held a press conference in which he severed his relationship with his former pastor.

Tuesday was the last big day of voting in the presidential primary season, which kicked off Jan 3 with the Iowa caucuses. A series of smaller states including Oregon, West Virginia, South Dakota and Montana are set to vote over the next four weeks.