Last big hurdle for Democratic rivals

DEMOCRATIC presidential candidate Barack Obama hoped to recover after a difficult month on the campaign trail, while his rival Hillary Clinton battled for survival in yesterday’s primary elections.

A split result in the contests in Indiana and North Carolina would leave the race for the party’s nomination as close as ever, but a clean sweep for Obama would raise serious questions over the former First Lady’s ability to continue.

On the other hand, a double victory for Clinton would add credibility to her claims Obama was lacking support and she was best placed to clinch the White House for the Democrats against Republican John McCain in November.

Such claims may help persuade the party’s so-called superdelegates to support her in the nomination race, and winning their support is her best chance of success.

But top Democratic officials have voiced increased concern that the prolonged race will undercut the party’s chances to present a united front for November’s general election.

The latest round in the 16-month campaign between the Democrats came as both candidates predicted their protracted battle would continue for weeks yet.

Earlier, the pair embarked on an intense 24 hours on the campaign trail with last-ditch appeals for support in the two states, which have emerged as significant tests for both candidates.

Obama needed to show the party’s superdelegates, almost 800 people who will decide the Democratic nominee in the close race, that the controversy over his former pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright has not damaged his popularity.

And Clinton, coming off a win in Pennsylvania two weeks ago, needed to seize on what has been one of the roughest patches in her campaign to boost her fading chances of becoming the party’s nominee.

Obama, who would be America’s first black president if elected in November, was expected to do well among North Carolina’s large African-American electorate, while Clinton, who would be the first woman president, led polls in Indiana.

A Suffolk poll showed Obama trailing Clinton 43% to 49% in Indiana, with a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points, but 58% of respondents also gave him a favourable rating, compared with Clinton’s 53%.

Following Obama’s defeat in Pennsylvania last month, he has struggled to move past a potentially damaging row over his former pastor’s controversial comments, while Clinton has portrayed herself as the Democrats’ best hope for winning the White House, in part because she is more popular with the party’s working-class base.

A total of 187 delegates were at stake yesterday.


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