WASHINGTON (AP) — Congratulations, Hillary Rodham Clinton. You did what your husband said you had to do and won Ohio and Texas… Now what?
“Tonight we won three out of four contests and began a new chapter in this historical campaign,” the victorious Clinton told reporters on her campaign plane.
But even if she wins every contest left, Clinton still would have a hard time overcoming Barack Obama’s pledged delegate lead. In fact, her task got even harder because even though she won Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island Tuesday night, she didn’t do much to close the delegate gap – and with every contest that passes, the number up for grabs drops.
Obama focused on the math while addressing supporters in Texas. “We have nearly the same delegate lead as we did this morning and we are on our way to winning this nomination,” he said.
Clinton’s best hope is to try to rack up big margins in the spring contests. Even her own advisers acknowledge Obama will probably win the two other states left this month – Wyoming on Saturday and Mississippi next Tuesday. If she is able to continue turning voters against Obama in the races after that, she could plausibly clinch the nomination by persuading superdelegates to back her.
It won’t be easy.
Her success Tuesday night came after she put a series of hits on Obama. She ran TV ads that questioned his foreign policy credentials – one that pointed out he didn’t call hearings on the fight against terrorists in Afghanistan and another fear-inducing piece that depicted her as the best candidate to handle an international crisis that erupts at 3 a.m. when your children are asleep.
Her campaign tried to raise more questions about Obama’s connections to an indicted fundraiser as he went on the trail. Clinton said Obama tried to pull the old “wink-wink” by talking tough on free trade in Ohio while secretly reassuring Canadians that he is no protectionist.
“He needs to figure out a way to respond quicker without being trapped into sort of the politics of squabbling,” said Democratic consultant Jenny Backus. “She slowed him down tonight by throwing a bunch of inside the beltway arguments over him, and it took him a day too long to get out from underneath it.”
With seven weeks until Pennsylvania, there’s plenty of time for the race to get even uglier.
And if the race drags on, it may not just be Clinton. Even as he was ahead with 11 straight wins leading into Tuesday, Obama made some of his toughest critiques yet of Clinton, and those are only likely to increase as he tries to force her out of the race.
“They need to run their own race, but they need to be able to turn the focus back to her,” Backus said.
Nedra Pickler has covered presidential politics for The Associated Press since 2002.