Washington: Barack Obama blamed fierce attacks by rival Hillary Rodham Clinton for his defeats in big Democratic primaries, and quickly made good on a promise to sharpen his criticism of her in what promised to be a drawn-out White House brawl.
Clinton declared on 5 March that her primary victories a day earlier in Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island, which resuscitated her campaign, had reordered the Democratic presidential race in her favour and given her the momentum to take the party’s presidential nomination.
But the math may not work out for her. The former first lady still has a large delegate deficit to make up, and few opportunities to do so in coming contests. Obama survived Tuesday’s losses with his lead in the delegate race essentially intact — but his rival has enough delegates that the battle could continue until the party’s convention in August.
Clinton netted only a 12-delegate pickup, despite despite winning primaries in three of the four states that voted Tuesday, according to an analysis of returns by The Associated Press. There were still 12 more delegates to be awarded.
In the overall race for the nomination, Obama had 1,567 delegates after picking up five new superdelegate endorsements on Wednesday. Clinton had 1,462 delegates. It takes 2,025 delegates to secure the Democratic nomination.
In Tuesday’s contests, Clinton won at least 185 delegates and Obama won at least 173.
On Wednesday, Obama took the offensive against Clinton, targeting her claims that she is more experienced in handling foreign policy.
“Was she negotiating treaties? Was she handling crises? The answer is no,” Obama said. “She made a series of arguments on why she should be a superior candidate. I think it’s important to examine that argument.”
Obama and Clinton had bruising campaigns last week, with Clinton arguing he was getting a free ride with the media, questioning his sincerity in opposing the North American Free Trade Agreement and darkly hinting he is not ready to be commander in chief in a crisis.
Clinton, who was asked in TV interviews on Wednesday about her national security qualifications, ticked off a series of events in which she played a role, including peace talks in Northern Ireland, the Kosovo refugee crisis and standing up for women’s rights in China. She also cited her work on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Obama aides too took the offensive on Wednesday, distributing a memo and holding a conference call to ask why Clinton has not released her tax returns. Her campaign responded with a statement e-mailed to reporters while they were on the Obama call that said the Clintons’ returns since they left the White House will be made public around 15 April 2008.
Obama reflected on the losses that broke a 12-contest winning streak in a talk with reporters aboard his campaign plane as he returned to his hometown of Chicago from San Antonio.
“There’s no doubt that Senator Clinton went very negative over the last week,” Obama said. He said the Clinton campaign’s multiple attacks “had some impact” on the election results “particularly in the context where many of you in the press corps had been persuaded that you had been too hard on her and too soft on me.”
There were 370 Democratic delegates at stake in Tuesday’s contests, and nearly complete returns showed Clinton outpaced Obama in Ohio, 74-65, in Rhode Island, 13-8, and in the Texas primary, 65-61.
Obama won in Vermont, 9-6, and was ahead in the Texas caucuses, 30-27. Ten of the dozen that remained to be awarded were in Texas; the other two in Ohio.
With the next major contest in Pennsylvania six weeks away — on April 22 — the Democrats had ample time for public campaigning, and for private appeals to superdelegates, party leaders who vote in nominating conventions, but are not bound by voters’ preferences.
Based on their current delegate counts, neither candidate can win enough delegates in the remaining primaries and caucuses to secure the nomination without the help of nearly 800 superdelegates — meaning the nomination fight could go all the way to the party’s national convention in August.
The delegate count does not include delegates from Florida and Michigan. The two states were penalized by the Democratic Party for moving up their primaries ahead of a schedule set by the Democratic National Committee.
None of the Democratic candidates campaigned in either state and Obama wasn’t even on the Michigan ballot. But Clinton, who won the popular vote in both state primaries, on Wednesday renewed her call for Florida and Michigan to be counted in the nomination race.
Officials in Michigan and Florida on Wednesday said they would consider holding a sort of do-over contest by June. That’s a change from their previous insistence that the primaries their states held in January should determine how the their delegates are allocated.