The Third Leader: When the going gets tough...

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The Independent Online

Democrats in Hawaii and Wisconsin have chosen Barack Obama as their candidate for US President, in both states by convincing margins. Almost worse news for Hillary Clinton than her latest losses, however, was the pollsters' number-crunching that followed. Mr Obama had been expected to sweep Hawaii, the state where he grew up. In Wisconsin, however, Mrs Clinton was thought to have more than an even chance.

Post-poll analysis showed that she lost ground among less educated voters and lower earners, and had only a bare majority among women. Mr Obama had made serious encroachments into her hitherto most reliable support.

Is it curtains, then, for the Clinton campaign? We hope not, if only because the contest itself has been so thrilling. There are also compelling reasons why the first plausible female candidate for US President may yet be able to hold on.

Wisconsin is not a typical state; it is marginal between Democrats and Republicans and between different strains of both. It has a very small non-white minority. If Mrs Clinton was going to lose white voters, this was the state to do it.

Her hope must be that women and lower-income white voters turn out for her in the big states of Ohio and Texas on 4 March. In Texas, the Hispanic vote will also be significant – a constituency where she has had strong support.

If, though, Democrats are now looking not just for the presidential candidate they would prefer, but the one with the better chance of beating John McCain, then Wisconsin may have set a trend. It is a trend even the arch-fighter Hillary Clinton may in the end be unable to buck.