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Clinton victories in Texas and Ohio give McCain time to craft his message

While the Democrats battle, McCain can see which attacks are effective.

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And she launched a TV ad Feb. 29 featuring sleeping children and asking which candidate voters would rather have answer an emergency phone call at 3 a.m. (Obama is not implicated in the Rezko case, has disputed accounts of his adviser's NAFTA remarks, and has accused Clinton of trying to scare voters with the so-called "red phone" ad.)

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"The Clinton campaign believes that not only have they checked Obama's momentum, they've found some themes they can prosecute against him," says Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "It will be up to Obama to develop some very credible responses."

Not only did the pillars of her base – white women, older voters, and Hispanics ­– stay loyal Tuesday, but she appeared to put the brakes on Obama's advances among white men. According to exit polls in Ohio, Rhode Island, and Texas, the candidates split independents, a group that typically has favored Obama.

Her margin of victory in Ohio, as in Rhode Island, was convincing: She took 54 percent of the Ohio vote to Obama's 44 percent, and in Rhode Island won 58 percent to 40 percent. The Texas race was nip and tuck, with Clinton at 51 percent and Obama at 47. Obama won big in Vermont, 60 percent to 38 percent.

The Florida and Michigan dilemma

Another new wrinkle for the Democrats is the possibility of "do-over" primaries in Florida and Michigan. Both states held their primaries earlier than the national party's rules allowed, and they were stripped of their delegates.

While Clinton "won" both primaries, the Democrats cannot seat her delegates without igniting all-out war in the party. But Democrats are hard-put to alienate their voters in two key battleground states by having no delegates seated at the Denver convention.

On Tuesday, two major Clinton supporters – former Democratic national chair Terry McAuliffe and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell – floated the idea of having both states hold new primaries.

There are obvious reasons for the Clinton team, especially, to find a solution to this dilemma. The demographics of Florida, in particular, play to Clinton's benefit, having many older and women voters, plus transplants from New York, Clinton's home turf.

Michigan would be a tougher call. It is the most economically stressed state in the US, which plays to the same working-class voter base that handed Clinton a victory in Ohio, but it also has a large black population, which helps Obama.

Despite Clinton's victories on March 4, she still trails in the delegate count and would have to win by massive margins in the remaining contests to close the gap. Holding new primaries in Michigan and Florida sometime this spring may be the only way Clinton can make up her deficit in the tally of "pledged" delegates, those earned in primaries and caucuses.

Wire service material was used in this report.