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McCain, Obama Move On As Hillary Stumbles Badly

Wednesday, 20 Feb 2008 | 1:04 PM ET
Barack Obama
AP
Barack Obama

John McCain accomplished his goal in Wisconsin’s Republican primary, defeating Mike Huckabee across the board, winning among conservatives, and shifting the GOP’s focus toward the general election. But Hillary Clinton did not.

And now the burden rests on her to prove she can still compete with Barack Obama, who last night became the clear favorite for the Democratic nomination.

Clinton didn’t just lose in Wisconsin and Hawaii, she was routed by a margin in the Badger State not much smaller than in her landslide defeats last week in Virginia and Maryland.

Exit polls show Clinton lost among all age groups except senior citizens. She narrowly carried her core constituency of white women, but was swamped among white men. And she lost among households earning less than $50,000, among union members, among conservative democratic voters, and those without college degrees.

Those results matter because those are important voting groups on March 4th, when the Clinton team acknowledges she must win in Ohio and Texas to overtake Obama for the nomination.

Harwood on WA, WI & HI
CNBC's John Harwood takes a look at Obama's victories in Hawaii and Wisconsin, and McCain wins in Wisconsin and Washington

The question facing Clinton now is, how she can do that. Polls show she’s still ahead in both states. She could benefit in Texas from the large Hispanic constituency, which has favored her before in places like California and Nevada.

Her aides point out that Ohio doesn’t have as many of the left-leaning independents that backed Obama in Wisconsin. And while Obama enjoyed the support of Wisconsin’s Democratic governor, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland is supporting Clinton.

But Obama now enjoys a large financial advantage over Clinton, and has shown that with more time to campaign on his message of change, he improves his standing. With two weeks to go, he has already substantially narrowed her Ohio and Texas leads. Clinton's sharp attacks on Obama--accusing him of plagiarism in his campaign speeches, among other things--didn’t work in Wisconsin.

Clinton will get another chance to reframe democrats’ choice when she and Obama debate on Thursday in Austin and next week in Cleveland. What’s unclear is whether she can still make voters listen.

If she can’t, all the controversy of recent days about so-called super delegates and battling all the way to the convention may become moot. The more Obama keeps winning, the more likely it is that super-delegates will move his way, too.

Questions? Comments? Write to politicalcapital@cnbc.com.