Barack Obama decisively won the Wisconsin primary last night as well as caucus voting in Hawaii, leaving his opponent for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton, if not quite in the dust then certainly battling the perception that her once formidable campaign has started to fade.
Mrs Clinton, long considered the front-runner of her party, has been rolled over by Mr Obama in 10 successive contests since Super Tuesday two weeks ago. He not only snatched Wisconsin, once considered favourable to Mrs Clinton, but did so by an unexpectedly wide margin, partly by mining constituencies that were meant to be friendly to her.
Projected results from the Pacific archipelago of Hawaii were even more lopsided. Senator Obama was always heavily favoured in the islands where he was born and where he spent most of his school years. And indeed he easily overwhelmed Mrs Clinton by a margin of three to one in caucus voting that saw an unsually heavy turn-out among island voters.
It was a good night for John McCain too. After easily beating Mike Huckabee in Wisconsin, he put aside his well-advertised superstition to acknowledge that his taking the nomination was now no longer in doubt. With a win similarly last night in Washington State, the Arizona Senator continues to edge ever closer to the 1,191 delegates he needs finally to seal his party's nod.
Mrs Clinton had fought hard in Wisconsin, resorting in recent days to negative attacks against her opponent in a frantic bid to halt his sudden burst of momentum. Not only did she fail, but last night she watched as Mr Obama defeated her in almost every region of the state and with nearly every type of voter, including blue collar workers and white males. Even among white woman, he and she were tied.
With every loss she suffers, the job for Mrs Clinton only becomes more difficult. Her campaign has insisted that she will finally turn back the tide of Barack on 4 March when two states with huge numbers of delegates, Ohio and Texas, go to the polls. Winning at least one of them is now not only important for the former First Lady, it has become imperative.
She knows, moreover, that with his sudden streak of victories – he now has taken 22 states against her 11 – Mr Obama is generating a new psychology around his campaign that is likely to infect the minds of voters in all those states that have not yet voiced their preferences. People like winners.
It is notable that while poll after poll in delegate-rich Texas showed Mrs Clinton comfortably in the lead for weeks, a CNN poll this week showed Mr Obama almost even with her.
There is also the crucial matter of the nearly 800 super-delegates who may have the power to tilt the balance in favour of one or the other of the runners if they remain essentially tied at convention time. Both camps have been wooing them feverishly. But Mr Obama can expect to have an easier time winning their loyalty as he chalks up new victories across the country.
As the networks last night first projected Mr Obama as the victor in Wisconsin, a hoarse Mrs Clinton was on stage at a rally in Youngstown, Ohio. It was telling that every cable news cable cut her off in mid-sentence when Mr Obama began speaking at a rally of his own in Houston, Texas.
"Houston, I think we achieved lift-off here," Mr Obama told a cheering audience after revealing his success in far-away Wisconsin. "The change we seek is still months and miles away, and we need the good people of Texas to help us get there."
Mrs Clinton, by contrast, omitted all mention of her Wisconsin loss, although aides said she did telephone her rival to congratulate him. But at the microphone she targeted Mr Obama for not having the necessary experience to be President.
"Both Senator Obama and I would make history," she declared. "But only one of us is ready on day one to be commander in chief, ready to manage our economy, and ready to defeat the Republicans. Only one of us has spent 35 years being a doer, a fighter and a champion for those who need a voice."
In Hawaii, Mrs Clinton benefited from heavy support from most of the Pineapple State union movement as well as from its popular senior Senator, Daniel Inouye. Her daughter, Chelsea, meanwhile, spent the last several days campaigning in the islands. In the end, however, none of this helped beat off Mr Obama and his home-boy advantage.
While Mr McCain was celebrating, Republican pundits noted that turn-out in Wisconsin among party members had been extremely well. The comparative lack of enthusiasm in the party does not bode well for a battle against the Democrats in November.
"For the Republicans this was a very disturbing night because of the turnout," David Frum, a Republican strategist warned.Reuse content