That screaming sound is Hillary Clinton, hurtling out of Wisconsin and heading back towards Texas, a day and a half ahead of Tuesday night’s Hawaii and Wisconsin double-header. Though Obama is only leading by about four points according to a summary of polls, Clinton’s departure is widely being taken as an indication that she had up to the minute knowledge of yet another slaughter, and that support has slipped from under her.

Yet increasingly even these disappearing acts, designed to avoid an unending series of concession speeches, are starting to read badly – de facto concessions, getting earlier and earlier. Of itself, a four point loss of around 50%-46% would not be that destructive, but another 60% Obamaslide would hurry Hillary to burial all the faster. Obama will win his homestate of Hawaii – a one-time afro-toting Kenyan-American dope smoker named Barry, Obama kinda is Hawaii, the pure personification of the place. He could even deliver the contest’s first 80%+ result, which would be further confirmation of Obama’s manifest destiny, even given the marginal status of the place.

Mind you, if it goes to the wire, as it pretty much now must, Hawaii will be far from the least of concerns, with one of the last primaries being held in Puerto Rico on 1 June. On current figures as many as 200,000 people will turn up to vote, all of them in the same car. Is another four months of this even conceivable? By that time Obama will most likely have pulled well-ahead of Clinton, but not yet have passed the magic 2025 delegates. That will demand that Hillary continue to maintain the illusion that she can win off these numbers alone without dropping the big one – seating the Michigan and Florida delegates.

Yet another tilt at this goal was announced by Hillary stumper, Ohio governor Ted Strickland, pointing out that 1.2 million people who voted for Hillary had been disenfranchised, which was contrary to Democratic party values. Given that Hillary was the only name on the Michigan ballot, it would be unkind to suggest that the tradition in question was Jim Crow.

Can Hillary turn this around at what are now being called the firewall primaries – Texas, Ohio and the chump change of Vermont and Rhode Island? The difficulty for Clinton is that she now has to work hard at recapturing lost demographic bases, such as white service industry workers and Hispanics. To do this, she’s gone further left, adopting many of John Edwards’s concrete suggestions, such as putting a figure on a new minimum wage – $9.50, a 50% hike, with the Hillaryesque proviso of delaying it until 2011.

Other times, this might have worked. It seems unlikely now. This election simply isn’t a bidding war, and the pull of Obama on people who were hitherto opposed to him has been based not on his rarely enunciated policy, but on the pure intoxication of his rhetoric and the promise of change by virtue of personality and identity. Yet still Obama doesn’t reassure, whenever he has to take up the cudgels. With both McCain and Hillary piling onto him over the issue of hope – McCain citing the hope that comes not from individuals, but from trust in each other (which sounds like socialism to me), and Hillary pointing out that hope is just a word (not, as suggested earlier, a place). Obama’s response (“it’s easy to be negative”) was lame-o.

Maybe he’s taking the highroad, or maybe he hasn’t got the fight. Maybe it’s sort of mental judo practice to go up against McCain, whose temper apparently makes Gareth Evans look like the Dalai Lama in a coma, and who could perhaps be tempted by cunning manipulations into doing a Glenn Milne on some debate podium somewhere.

Whatever the case, Obama doesn’t need to do much more than what he’s doing already to lap Hillary. Nothing is working for her, and maybe it never would have. Would she be losing – say to Edwards – even if Obama wasn’t in the race? Obviously not by the same margin, but it may have been that her lead was largely founded on pre-campaign visibility, and would always have evaporated as the simple prospect of a regal succession of the House of Clinton took hold of the public imagination.

Sometimes you can’t take a trick, and that’s Hillary this week – as a report on “earmarking”, the practice of attaching state-specific pork projects to general bills – hit the desks, produced by Americans Concerned About Taxes and the Democrats Winning or somesuch. McCain apparently doesn’t use earmarks. And the champion earmarker among all the candidates, current and withdrawn? Well, let’s just say that at least she won something this weekend.

Peter Fray

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