WASHINGTON (AFP) — Hillary Clinton hit back hard at Barack Obama Wednesday after her latest electoral drubbing, but the daunting size of her task in slowing the new Democratic pace-setter was only just becoming clear.
Now the underdog in the race for the party's White House nomination, Senator Clinton portrayed Obama as a talented orator who dodged tough questions, as aides said big wins on March 4 in Ohio and Texas would rescue her faltering campaign.
She argued the Illinois senator had no answers to a worsening economic forecast, a mortgage crunch and a health care crisis.
"I have solutions to these economic challenges. The question today is, does Senator Obama?" she said at a news conference in Texas.
Her campaign argued Obama's rousing rhetoric masked a paucity of policies, and debuted an ad in battleground Wisconsin, which votes next Tuesday, accusing him of dodging one-on-one debates.
"Maybe he'd prefer to give speeches than have to answer questions?" said the ad, issued after Obama romped to primary wins in Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C. on Tuesday.
In a fundraising appeal to supporters meanwhile, Clinton warned that despite recent reverses, she would not give up.
"Every time they start to count us out, we prove them wrong," she said.
"And we're going to keep proving them wrong as many times as we need to until we win the White House."
But Obama, cresting a wave of momentum after his eight straight wins in nominating primaries over the last week, attempted to add heft to his rhetoric with a speech diagnosing America's economic woes.
Seeking inroads in Clinton's working class support base, Obama also included possible Republican general election rival John McCain in his critique of a "failure" of leadership in Washington.
"We are not standing on the brink of recession due to forces beyond our control," said Obama in a speech at a General Motors assembly plant in Wisconsin.
"It was a failure of leadership and imagination in Washington -- the culmination of decades of decisions that were made or put off without regard to the realities of a global economy and the growing inequality its produced."
He said that war in Iraq, which Senators Clinton and McCain voted for, cost billions of dollars that could be used to rebuild "crumbling schools and bridges, roads and buildings" and fund health care or college educations.
As the candidates sparred, the reality of the electoral equation facing Clinton ahead of the party convention to anoint the nominee in August was becoming clear.
Obama aides claimed their man now had a significant lead of 136 pledged delegates, those are doled out proportionally after each state contest.
Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said Clinton would need to win remaining nominating showdowns by margins of 25 to 30 points simply to draw level.
"We believe it is next to impossible for Senator Clinton to close that pledged delegate count," said Plouffe.
"Even the most creative math really does not get her, ever, back to even in terms of pledged delegates," he said.
The Clinton campaign admitted Obama had a lead, but said she should be back within 25 delegates of her rival after Ohio and Texas.
"We fully expect, come March 4, we will be back in a strong position," said Clinton's top strategist Mark Penn.
Wednesday's revelations suggests Clinton must rely on "superdelegates" -- the 796 party luminaries who also vote at the convention -- to get her to the nomination.
The former first lady currently leads that block 242 to 156, according to political website, Real Clear Politics, closing the gap between the two. Obama currently leads the combined count of all delegates 1272 to 1231, with a total of 2,025 needed for the nomination.
A pitched battle is waging over those superdelegates -- who include party leaders, members of Congress, and former presidents -- that are still wavering. The question for both campaigns now is whether they will be swayed by Obama's momentum or honor long ties to the Clintons.
Presumptive Republican nominee McCain landed his own triple primary triumph on Tuesday, but a tougher-than-expected showing from rival Mike Huckabee in Virginia reflected his struggle to close the deal with conservatives.
McCain led Republicans with 804 delegates to Huckabee's 240. Republicans need 1,191 for their party's nomination.
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