Clinton faces her own Alamo as she battles Obama in Texas

Hillary's lead is long gone, as the Democratic candidates now run neck and neck in Ohio and the Lone Star state

If the next three days turn out to be Hillary's Clinton's last stand in the 2008 presidential race, then she could not have chosen a more appropriate backdrop for her last round of big Texas rallies.

On Friday night she stood just a few yards away from the Alamo, the hallowed shrine to Texan independence and American patriotism in San Antonio, where Davy Crockett and his comrades chose to go down fighting rather than surrender to the Mexicans in 1836. She could have echoed the words of William Travis, the commander at the Alamo, who wrote to the leader of the Texas army at the time: "Give me help, oh my country!"

Being a pragmatic, goal-oriented political fighter, though, she focused on familiar talking points and urged the banner-waving crowd, gathered on a balmy evening, to rustle up everyone they know and get them to vote in Tuesday's double-whammy primary and caucus. "One thing we've learned...," she said. "It matters who the President of the United States of America is... This presidency belongs to you."

The crowd chanted "Hillary! Hillary!" and the Hispanic union workers' slogan "Si se puede!" ("Yes we can!"). But the numbers do not bode well for the former First Lady. While she attracted a few thousand to her event, Barack Obama – holding a similar rally on the outskirts of San Antonio – drew rock-concert numbers.

The latest polls suggest Senator Clinton is, at best, in a dead heat with Senator Obama in Texas, and that her once formidable advantage over him in Ohio, the other big state voting on Tuesday, has shrunk to just four percentage points. Both are must-win states for Mrs Clinton, who has lost all 11 contests since Super Tuesday a month ago, and is already being written off by pundits and politicians focused on the looming election fight against the Republican John McCain.

Perhaps more worrying than the polls – which have been unreliable – are the turnout figures from Texas's early voting window, which began in the middle of last month and ended on Friday. Voters flocked to the polls in unprecedented numbers in Dallas and Houston – regarded as Obama country – but turned out at a much lower rate in Clinton-friendly south Texas. Mr Obama has announced he will spend election night in Texas, suggesting he is confident of victory in the Lone Star state.

But, like the soldiers at the Alamo, Mrs Clinton is determined to fight to the end. She was holding more rallies in Fort Worth and Dallas yesterday, and planned to return to Texas tomorrow night for a question-and-answer session in Austin.

She has also put out a controversial television advert, seemingly aimed at scaring voters into respecting her experience and gravitas. "It's 3am and your children are safe asleep," the voiceover intones. "But there's a phone in the White House and it's ringing. Something's happening in the world... Who do you want answering the phone?" A similar advert helped Walter Mondale, a former vice-president, deliver the coup de grâce to Gary Hart in the 1984 Democratic primaries.

But Mr Obama was undaunted. "Senator Clinton may not be aware," he told his San Antonio rally, "but we already had a 'red phone' moment. It was the decision to invade Iraq, and Senator Clinton picked up the phone and gave the wrong answer."

The Obama camp quickly put out its own re-edited version, in which the voice-over ends: "When the call gets answered, shouldn't the President be the one – the only one – who had judgment and courage to oppose the Iraq war from the start?"

In terms of raw electoral numbers, Mrs Clinton's best hope in Texas lies with the sizeable Latino community – a constituency that has stayed faithful to her longer than any other part of what once seemed like an unassailable coalition of supporters. She, and her husband, have spent much time in towns by the Mexican border; and she has recruited celebrities such as America Ferrera, star of television's Ugly Betty, to her campaign.

Mr Obama has attracted Latino support of his own, however. His entertainer-surrogate in Texas, the comedian George Lopez, has been far more effective on the stump than Ms Ferrera. One supporter printed hundreds of T-shirts for the San Antonio rally reading: "Obamanos" – a play on the Spanish phrase "Vamonos!", or "Let's go!"

For rolling comment on the US election visit: independent.co.uk/campaign08

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