Clinton faces uphill battle to catch up with her rival

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Senator Hillary Clinton, grievously wounded by heavy losses in both Wisconsin and Hawaii on Tuesday, tried again yesterday to smudge the front-runner glow now attached to Barack Obama, her rival for the Democratic nomination, saying it was time to move on from "good words to good works".

There was no disguising the predicament the former first lady finds herself in, however. Since Mr Obama in effect divided the votes with her on Super Tuesday two weeks ago, he has won 10 states in a row and, according to most estimates, has opened a lead in nominating delegates of 100 or more.

At a fund-raising event in Manhattan, Mrs Clinton congratulated her rival for his latest wins and, in a flourish of understatement, acknowledged that he had had "a good couple of weeks". She gave no quarter, however, to those who suggested the race has now become his to lose. "We've got to be focused on what kind of choice we actually have before us. It's time we moved from good words to good works, from sound bites to sound solutions," she declared, while her campaign aides continued to insist that she and Mr Obama were essentially neck and neck in delegate numbers.

To reverse the flow of delegates into his column and reclaim any credibility for her candidacy, she now needs not only to win both Texas and Ohio, which vote on 4 March, but win them by large margins. Failing that, she needs him to commit some dramatic unforced errors of his own.

But the new energy surrounding Mr Obama is likely to feed on itself, giving him additional bounce going into the March contests. On Tuesday he successfully cut into nearly all of the constituencies that were meant to be bastions of Clinton support, including blue-collar workers and whites. And they split the female vote.

The notion that the race was still tied was dismissed yesterday by David Plouffe, a senior Obama strategist. "This is a wide, wide lead right now," he said. "I am amused when the Clinton campaign continues to say: 'Well, it's essentially a tie.' I mean, that's just lunacy."

A televised debate in Texas tonight may give Mrs Clinton a chance to chip away at her rival, who, by most reckonings, performs better before large crowds than in face-to-face encounters before the cameras. Possibly helping her will be the inevitably increased scrutiny that Mr Obama will now come under as the new Democrat front-runner. Some will come from Republicans: indeed, John McCain, who tightened his grip on the Republican nomination with wins in Wisconsin and Washington State on Tuesday, lent a hand, singling out Mr Obama, without actually naming him, as direly short on foreign policy training.

Some of the harshest attacks, however, may come from Democrats. The tone may have been set already by the president of the machinists' union in America, Tom Buffenburger, who on Tuesday set his sights on Mr Obama's supporters. "I've got news for all the latte-drinking, Prius-driving, Birkenstock-wearing, trust-fund babies crowding in to hear him speak! This guy won't last a round against the Republican attack machine. He's a poet, not a fighter."

A new Reuters-Zogby poll yesterday meanwhile offered more grim news for Mrs Clinton. It showed Mr Obama surging nationally, opening a 14-point lead. Only a month ago in the same poll they were tied.