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Big wins in Wisconsin, Hawaii make it Obama's race to lose

His large margins of victory in Tuesday's contests put Clinton on the ropes.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / February 21, 2008

Democratic hopeful Barack Obama campaigns in Houston.

Rick Bowmer/AP

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Washington

Barack Obama's resounding 17-point victory in the Wisconsin primary has pushed Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign to the brink of extinction.

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Senator Obama of Illinois also won the Hawaii caucuses, making him undefeated in the last 10 Democratic presidential primaries and caucuses. Obama's 76 percent of votes to Clinton's 24 percent was not surprising in his native state. But though Obama's victory in Wisconsin was also expected, his unexpectedly large margin of victory there signals serious trouble for Senator Clinton. As with the three "Potomac primaries" last week, Obama achieved that feat by cutting into Clinton's historic base of support: women and low-income voters.

Now the campaign shifts to the four March 4 primaries, which are dominated by the delegate-rich states of Ohio and Texas. There, Clinton faces the ultimate question: What can she do to change the trajectory of the nomination race?

"She certainly faces an Alamo moment in Texas and Ohio," says Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "This was a significant win for Obama, because it was 17 points and he cut into her base. If that continues in Ohio and Texas, she will be done."

Even if Clinton wins Ohio and Texas by slim margins, that may not be enough for her to catch Obama. As of early Wednesday, he led the delegate count 1,336 to 1,251, out of the 2,025 needed to win the nomination, according to the Associated Press. Because the Democrats allocate delegates proportionally, she needs big victory margins to gain ground and overtake him.

Still, just to win a state, even by a few points, would be a huge boost to Clinton's campaign. "Winning is becoming psychologically important," says John Green, a political scientist at the University of Akron, in Ohio. "If she wins 51 percent [in Texas and Ohio], her team will feel better – though it won't change the delegate count much."

As of Wednesday, Clinton had an average lead of 14.7 percentage points in Ohio in recent polls, according to RealClearPolitics.com. In Texas, her average lead was 7.6 percentage points. Recent history has shown that Obama can erase or at least substantially reduce a Clinton lead in the polls by campaigning intensively, both in person and via advertising. His flush coffers have made it possible for him to organize and advertise extensively, though he has found the large states tougher going. On Feb. 5, Super Tuesday, Clinton won California, New York, and New Jersey while Obama racked up delegates in smaller states.

Some treat Obama as nominee

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