George Orwell, in his famous account of shooting the elephant, noted that when the first bullet hit, the animal ‘seemed to age instantly’. You can never tell whether it’s the power of suggestion or not, but Barack Obama seemed to have a touch of the elephants about him in his speech to the faithful outside of his hotel in San Antonio tonight.

In Ohio, Hillary had come out half an hour before with that slightly manic insane clown posse face of hers to really whup on some media ass. Playing the line that she was now the candidate for anyone who had ever been ‘written off’ – which was a pretty good line for a state which feels like it’s been flushed down the toilet – she returned to the old experience, not learning on the job, etc etc, in celebrating her stomping victory in Ohio – the numbers currently running at 56 – 43 – a handy small state victory in Rhode Island at 58 – 40, and a cliffhanger in Texas (which Fox has just called in her favour). As always you can see the renewed energy pulsating through the victor, and she looked like she might just take off with hidden jet packs into the night sky at any moment.

She could have done a few loops around Obama who was by no means sagging but whose mojo was certainly absent this evening. The old rhythms were there but the audience response was a little muted, the surefire hits were less explosive, the mood was a little deflated. It was a variation of the stump mark II he’s been giving for a coupla weeks now, itself containing about 50% of his original stump speech and I for one think that if I have to hear one more time about the girl who worked 2 jobs and slept three hours a night to get through college and pay her sister’s medical bills I will find her and kick her in the teeth, and I suspect that many people are starting to feel the same.

Things being what they are, Obama’s campaign is now being worked over for mistakes – was it an aide meeting with the Canadian govt about NAFTA? Yeah that really does it. I mean the Canadians. Was it the Rezko connection? Did these things take the gloss off him? Though Vermont and Texas went pretty much as the polls suggested, Clinton’s Ohio victory was well beyond what the polls, any polls, were suggesting. After Wisconsin went to Obama, the idea that the northern industrial states were Clinton’s (Illinois was Obama’s home state) was deflated, but this may show it was true after all. No doubt there will be any number of arse catching explanations tomorrow.

What became clear, especially from Obama’s speech, was that this contest is going to be as bloody as it gets. For the first time, he explicitly grouped Clinton and McCain together as part of the old politics, repaying the favour of Clinton grouping herself with McCain earlier in the week. But that is a fissure that could potentially run right down the middle of the Democrats, permanently pissing off a vital section of whichever side loses. Some of Clinton’s voters – especially in Ohio – are potential McCain voters. Working-class, Democrat – but conservative in their judgments before they are either of those things. And some of Obama’s supporters are potentially post-political – having been called out by Obamacharm, they may simply float right back out again if he’s no longer in the hunt.

What is for certain is that if they don’t re-establish some basic rules of the game, another eight weeks – at the very least – of this will easily deliver McCain the White House.

He no longer has the Huckabee to contend with in any case.

The Huck came on stage about 9.30pm Texas time, gave some rambling local story about a baseball player who did his best, and conceded that McCain was gonna get the nomination. He thanked the staff, rounded them up and pointing them down the party line, quoted Isiaih and some other guy he knew. Ah. His ideas are a mixture of the loathsome and the crazy but everyone is going to miss the Huckabee. He ran about the best campaign and got the best numbers he was likely to get and he provided a lot of jokes along the way. Too many really. For someone trying to rewrite the constitution he seemed not to take anything too seriously. Did he like the jokes more than the judeo-christian stuff? And if so what does that say about the whole theoconservative project?

What’s left for him? Either a talk show or the vice-presidency.

He was followed by McCain whose speech was thunderingly aggressive, all cuteness gone, like tanks rolling down a gangway. Oh dear. Oh dear.

And actually Orwell never shot that elephant.

Peter Fray

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