Democratic race in US set to get dirtier

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are preparing for a long and potentially brutal struggle for the Democratic nomination, with both campaign teams hinting darkly about descending into even more negative tactics as the race progresses. ( Guardian )

Clinton's campaign attribute her wins in the primaries in Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island last night to her aggressive tactics over the last week that forced Obama onto the defensive.

The Obama team today threatened to retaliate by exploring skeletons in Bill and Hillary's past, and to demand disclosure of her tax returns. She has been reluctant to release the latter, possibly afraid to let voters see the extent of her personal fortune.

She failed to make a significant dent in Obama's commanding lead in the race for the Democratic nomination in spite of her three stunning victories yesterday.

With counts almost completed, her haul from the victories in Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island proved to be meagre, awarding her only 12 more delegates than her rival.

Obama, during a round of television interviews this morning, claimed his lead in delegates was too big for her to catch up.

"We still have an insurmountable lead. We're very confident about where we're going to be and that we can win the nomination and the general election," he said.

Although the arithmetic is against her, her wins provide her with momentum going into the next phase of the race, the struggle for the Pennsylvania primary, the mega-state that holds its contest on April 22.

The long time lag allows Clinton to attack Obama with even more intensity than she displayed over the last week and which exit polls suggest swayed last-minute votes.

Her team concentrated on his links with Anton 'Tony" Rezko, the Chicago property developer on trial for alleged corruption, aired a scare ad suggesting he is weak on national security and suggested he was lying about his policy on jobs and international trade.

The risk of such intensive in-fighting is that it could benefit John McCain, who last night won the Republican nomination, leaving him free to concentrate on preparing for the November general election.

The Clinton camp signalled it will keep up the aggressive tactics. She is to hold an event today aimed at highlighting what she claims is his lack of national security experience.

The contest is unlikely to be decided in Pennsylvania and could now continue all the way to Denver.

The prospect of such a prolonged campaign is alarming many in the Democratic party, who fear that such intensive in-fighting will help the Republicans, and are advocating a truce.

One compromise would be for Clinton and Obama to join forces, running on the same ticket.

While Clinton won the Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island primaries, Obama won Vermont and also regained lost ground in the Texas caucuses, held immediately after the state's primary.

With 12 delegates still to be awarded from the 370 at stake, the breakdown was 185 for Clinton and 173 for Obama.

Obama has 1,562 delegates, including the super-delegates, members of Congress and other senior party members who have an automatic vote at the conference, and Clinton 1,461. It takes 2,025 delegates to secure the Democratic nomination.

He is expected to extend his lead by winning the Wyoming caucuses on Saturday and the Mississippi primary on Tuesday.

Asked on CBS whether she and Obama should be running mates, as presidential and vice-presidential candidates, she said: "That may be where this is headed, but of course we have to decide who is on the top of ticket. I think the people of Ohio very clearly said that it should be me."

But the relations between the two sides are poor and neither side is prepared to accept the consolation prize of vice-presidential candidate.

David Axelrod, Obama's communications chief, indicated today he expected the race would continue to be rough. "If Sen. Clinton wants to take the debate to various places, we'll join that debate," Axelrod said.

"We'll do it on our terms and in our own way but if she wants to make issues like ethics and disclosure and law firms and real estate deals and all that stuff issues, as I've said before I don't know why they'd want to go there, but I guess that's where they'll take the race."

Even if Clinton was to win Pennsylvania, it would not be enough to close the gap. Her team is suggesting for the first time that primaries should be re-run in Florida and Michigan, both of which held contests in January but were disqualified from sending delegates because they breached party rules.

Clinton won both contests, partly because Obama did not participate.

Terry McAuliffe, the Clinton campaign's national chairman, repeated a by now familiar argument that it would be unfair to bar delegates from two large states from playing a role in determining the Democratic nominee.

But for the first time the Clinton camp appeared to be open to the idea of what McAuliffe called "do-overs" in the two states.

"We're all for a primary in both states because we cannot go into a general election and say those votes didn't count," he told reporters last night. "But do-overs cost millions of dollars. It's up to those states."

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