Leading article: A good result – and not only for the Clinton camp

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The Independent Online

Super Tuesday belonged to Barack Obama, but its sequel – the US state primaries held this week – belonged to Hillary Clinton. Her victories in Ohio and Texas have given her presidential election campaign a new lease of life. If she eventually wins the Democratic Party nomination, 4 March will go down as the date her fortunes turned. Americans like to say that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Not for the first time in her varied career, Mrs Clinton showed herself to be among the toughest. She responded to the setbacks of Super Tuesday by revamping her campaign staff, going on to the attack and applying herself with renewed energy to the task in hand. Before this week, it was possible to argue that maybe Mrs Clinton did not have what it takes to win the nomination, let alone the presidency. It is far more difficult to maintain that position now.

As cheering as this week's primaries have been for Mrs Clinton, they have been salutary for her opponent – and, in a way, not before time. In Texas, Mr Obama was subject to much closer questioning about the boring specifics that have been the very essence of the Clinton campaign. Suddenly his charisma and personal charm were not enough. He found himself fielding questions on such diverse issues as his attitude towards the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement and his association with an indicted Chicago housing speculator. He kept his cool, but he clearly did not like it.

It is unfortunate for Mrs Clinton, of course, that such questions were not raised before. Such was the tide of novelty and euphoria that swept Mr Obama's campaign along that deeper probing seemed somehow to be in poor taste. What is more, the excitement generated by his campaign made Mrs Clinton's dogged pitch for power seemed staid and boring.

At a time of increasing economic uncertainty, however – a week when the legendary US investor, Warren Buffett, said that the US was already in a recession "by any common-sense definition", and the Middle East again erupted in flames – Mrs Clinton came to seem the more solid and reliable of the two. It might have been near-tears that did the trick for her in the key early primary in New Hampshire. But in what had become a life or death contest in Texas, it was a television advertisement showing sleeping children and a ringing telephone, with the voiceover: "It's 3am and your children are safely asleep. Who do you want answering the phone?'' Similar scare tactics have served would-be presidents well. Lyndon Johnson beat Barry Goldwater with the help of an advert combining a daisy-chain and the nuclear threat. At this stage in the campaign, however, there is no reason why the Clinton campaign's scaremongering should have the last word. His immediate riposte, that – unlike Mrs Clinton – he had made the right judgement call on Iraq, was a good start. But issues of experience and solidity are ones Mr Obama will have to face if he is nominated to contest the presidency with, as is now certain, John McCain. It is far better that he confronts them now, rather than being left without answers in the last crucial laps of the race.

In the US, groans can already be heard about this long-running struggle for the Democratic nomination. Obama supporters would naturally have preferred a winner to emerge on Tuesday night. There are fears, too, that the continuing duel will place the party at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the Republicans, whose nominee can now plan his campaign. But it is surely better for the Democrats to ensure that they go into this election with a candidate whose strengths and weaknesses have been thoroughly probed. Texas and Ohio have done the Democrats a favour. The rival bandwagons move on to Pennsylvania.

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