WASHINGTON (AFP) — Hillary Clinton licked her wounds Wednesday after her 10th successive electoral mauling by White House rival Barack Obama, stressing experience over hype ahead of must-win battles in Texas and Ohio.
Obama's victories Tuesday in Democratic contests in Wisconsin and Hawaii extended a stunning streak for the Illinois senator since the "Super Tuesday" nationwide primaries ended in deadlock two weeks ago.
John McCain meanwhile declared himself the Republican heir apparent after his own wins Tuesday over Mike Huckabee, who angrily insisted he was still in the race despite strong-arming to quit by party elders.
As the latest televised debate between Obama and Clinton loomed Thursday, the Democrats were looking ahead to the next battlegrounds in Texas and Ohio, which could make or break the former first lady's faltering campaign.
"Others might be joining a movement," Senator Clinton told a fundraiser early Wednesday in her home state of New York, referring to Obama's much-hyped promise of change after two decades of bitterly partisan US politics.
"Well I'm joining you on the night shift, and the day shift," she said, highlighting bread-and-butter economic issues and stressing that she would be ready as commander-in-chief "on day one."
However, the results in Wisconsin made worrying reading for the Clinton campaign with Obama eating into her core constituencies of blue-collar workers, women and middle-aged voters.
Overall, the freshman senator bidding to be America's first black president beat Clinton by 58 percent to 41 in the midwestern state. He took his birth state of Hawaii by a landslide.
While Obama now enjoys a small but clear lead in the Democratic delegate count, the prospect still remains of a convention brawl when the party chooses its presidential nominee in August.
However, pundits said that pressure from party grandees would intensify against Clinton if she fails to hold off the Obama surge in Texas and Ohio, which vote on March 4 along with Vermont and Rhode Island.
Obama's campaign hit back at Clinton's attempts to define this election as a "choice" between her three decades of political experience and his untested appeal for a new dawn in the world's biggest military and economic power.
Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton said it was a choice between Clinton, who voted to authorize the unpopular war in Iraq, "and one who opposed it from the very beginning."
"It's a choice between going into this election with Republicans and independents already united against us, or going against John McCain with a campaign that has already united Americans of all parties around a common purpose," he said.
"The choice in this election is between more of the same divisive, say-or-do-anything-to-win politics of the past and real change that we can believe in."
After her New York appearance, Clinton was heading to campaign stops in Texas where she hopes strong support from Hispanic voters can build a "firewall" against the Obama blaze.
Obama was already campaigning hard in the Lone Star state, where he told an enraptured rally late Tuesday: "Houston, I think we've achieved liftoff here."
The two Democrats were to clash Thursday in Austin at a CNN debate, a forum that Clinton believes favors her policy-oriented discourse over the electrifying oratory of her opponent.
McCain, celebrating wins over former Arkansas governor Huckabee in Wisconsin and Washington state, is already anticipating an Obama match-up in November's presidential election.
At a victory rally in Ohio late Tuesday, the Arizona senator rapped an "eloquent but empty call for change that promises no more than a holiday from history."
But McCain is not ruling out a comeback from the fabled Clinton machine. "She's shown great
resilience in the past," he told ABC television.
Huckabee, a Baptist preacher popular with hardcore conservatives, meanwhile said on MSNBC that he would fight on in Texas despite trailing far behind McCain in the Republican delegate count.
He admitted to intense pressure from the party establishment to bow out, but said: "That smug,
elitist, arrogant attitude toward many of us who are in this race is going to backfire on a lot of Republicans."
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