UPDATE 6.00 pm, AEST – GUY RUNDLE writes in Houston:

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 arse. 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 judgements 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.

UPDATE: 3:51pm, Aest.

Fox News is showing Obama’s speech in concession speech in Ohio. Blah, blah, change. Blah, blah hope. This man is in serious need of an editor. You’re a great orator, we get it.

Wonkette is liveblogging the thing.

UPDATE: 3:03pm, Aest.

CNN is also now calling Ohio for Clinton.

And a video of Mike Huckabee saying farewell (some kind of sporting analogy…)

UPDATE: 2:50pm, Aest.

Going down to the wire:

Results are still coming through for today’s much-anticipated Democratic Primaries, but right now, things are looking just a little brighter for Hillary Clinton.

The results of the smaller states, Vermont and Rhode Island have been declared, with Obama taking Vermont with 60% (after 75% of the vote has been counted) and Clinton taking Rhode Island with 59% (after 75% of the vote has been counted). And while Hillary is enjoying an expected lead in Ohio with 56% of the vote (46% counted) — Fox has just called it for Hillary — the results of Texas are far from clear. Only 19% of the Texan vote has been counted, and the candidates are dead even, with 49% of the votes each.

Texas is the most lucrative state in today’s primaries, with the most delegates at stake, and it was widely tipped that if Hillary lost Texas, she would have to pull out of the Presidential race. Until today, Clinton has lost the last eleven primaries. Neither candidate has the numbers to win the candidacy outright before the 796 ‘super delegates’ vote in August.

CRIKEY EMAIL EDITION:

It’s now or never for Hillary Rodham Clinton. After 12 straight wins for Obama (he’s taken Vermont today), just how she fares in Ohio and Texas will dictate whether she stays or bows out gracefully — or does neither. Vermont and Rhode Island, the two other states holding primaries today, were never going to be the main cheese. As The Washington Post observes, they are “sideshows to the main contests in the Long Horn State and the Buckeye State”.

While Obamamania sweeps through the press and the nation, the numbers at this stage are still very close: ahead of Tuesday, Obama had 1,386 delegate votes to Hillary’s 1,276, according to a count by AP. The candidates need 2,025 delegates to win the nomination straight out; 370 are on offer on Tuesday, most of them in Tex-Ohi. But even if everything goes right for Hillary from here, she’ll still be 58 delegates down at the end, argues Newsweek ‘s Jonathan Alter.

Oh yes, and John McCain had hoped to take this opportunity to tie up the Republican race once and for all, y’all. He was only 144 delegates shy of clinching it — and there are 256 up for grab on Somewhat Super Tuesday alone. And as Crikey goes to press, it looks like he’s clinched the Republican nomination, with Mike Huckabee finally dropping out. John McCain racked up easy victories in Vermont, Ohio and Texas and officially crossed the threshold of 1,191 delegates needed to clinch the Republican nomination, says Politico.  President Bush has invited McCain to the White House for an official meet and greet.

Crikey will be updating the developing situation through the afternoon, so return to this story for the latest news.

Liveblogging of the Clinton-Obama showdown can be found at Wonkette and Huffington Post, with up-to-the-minute coverage at CNN.

Hillary the third wheel in this relationship: Hillary Clinton ceased to be the Democratic front-runner weeks ago, humiliatingly enough for her formerly inevitable campaign. But it was only after her drubbing in the Wisconsin primary that she became an inconvenience, the superfluous woman of Democratic politics. Among elected Democrats and the press, there is a palpable impatience with Hillary’s continued presence in the race: Won’t this lady ever leave so we can consummate our love affair with Barack Obama? — Rich Lowry, via  RealClearPolitics

Highlights of early exit polling: The economy was big in Ohio Democratic voters’ minds – six in 10 said it’s the most important issue facing the country, more than said so in any of the other 25 Democratic primaries with exit polls this year. More than half of Rhode Island Democrats and nearly as many in Texas picked the economy as the top issue out of three choices. In Vermont, almost as many voters picked Iraq as the economy – the first Democratic contest this year in which Iraq was considered about as important as the economy…One in seven Obama voters acknowledged Clinton as more qualified to be commander in chief; fewer than one in 20 Clinton voters said that about Obama. — The Guardian

Five reasons Hill could make a comeback: Please delete this story if actual voters render it obsolete a few hours from now. But until the results come in, take some time to contemplate the hidden reasons for the Clinton Comeback. 1. The “SNL” Factor. Just when you thought no one watched “Saturday Night Live” anymore, the show made a star cameo on this year’s trail. The Not Ready for Prime Time Players were brutally effective in exposing the fawning coverage of Obama. Never underestimate the power of shame in journalism. “SNL’s” mockery went straight to reporters’ insecurities. Being accused of falling “in the tank” for a candidate is the journalistic equivalent of a nerdish high school freshman getting a wedgie from the jocks. — Jim VandeHei and John F. Harris, Politico

She’ll stick around for now. I think Hillary sticks around after tomorrow. We’re supposed to believe she’s going to give up because she was a few percentage points or maybe one percent short in Texas? Nah. She appears to be on pace to win Ohio handily. She’s got six weeks until the next big state, the neighboring Pennsylvania. She’ll have enough silver linings to justify fighting on at the end of tomorrow night. — Jim Geraghty, NRO

Even if she wins big…she still can’t win. Hillary Clinton may be poised for a big night tonight, with wins in Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island. Clinton aides say this will be the beginning of her comeback against Barack Obama . There’s only one problem with this analysis: they can’t count. I’m no good at math either, but with the help of Slate’s Delegate Calculator I’ve scoped out the rest of the primaries, and even if you assume huge Hillary wins from here on out, the numbers don’t look good for Clinton. In order to show how deep a hole she’s in, I’ve given her the benefit of the doubt every week for the rest of the primaries. — Jonathan Alter, Newsweek

Obama’s Canadian memo: On February 9 Austan Goolsbee, the senior economic adviser to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, had a meeting with Georges Rioux, consul general for the Canadian government. The two men met in Chicago, where Rioux maintains a consular office for the states of Illinois, Missouri, and Wisconsin and where Goolsbee teaches economics at the University of Chicago. — Slate

Dirty tricks: Did the Clinton camp make Obama darker? Tensions are running high in Democratic circles between the supporters of senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama — and nowhere is that more evident than on the internet. Some of the more explosive blog posts making the rounds today concern a charge from a couple of diarists on the Daily Kos that the Clinton campaign deliberately darkened Obama’s skin color in a recent television ad. — Sarah Lai Stirland, Threat Level, Wired blogs

Obama brings history with him. Obama not only created an alliance between African-Americans and upscale reform voters, he also changed the composition of the Democratic electorate by drawing in hundreds of thousands of voters under the age of 30. If Obama prevails, historians will see him as the first Democrat since Franklin Roosevelt to bring a whole new constituency into the system. That, the political scientists tell us, is how realignments happen. — EJ Dionne Jr, Washington Post

The real change is McCain. If you’re a Democrat reading this column at the breakfast table, you’d better hit the door. The line at your polling place could be a mess. This Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama dustup has Texas Democrats tripping over themselves to vote. But here is a rich little irony: Despite all you’ve read about Democratic candidates promising change, the surprising change agent in this presidential election could be a 71-year-old Republican. — William McKenzie, Dallas Morning News

McCain should lose his religion. The squabble surrounding San Antonio televangelist John Hagee’s endorsement of Republican presidential hopeful John McCain reminds me of why there should be less religion in politics — incendiary faith is the opposite of consensus building. McCain has said that he is proud to be associated with Hagee. This must be in part because McCain’s strategists think he needs to burnish his evangelical credentials and Hagee’s vote, along with his 19,000-member strong congregation, is just the solution. Thing is, this country is big. Real big. And you need to bring together a lot of people to vote for you if you want to be president. That may be a little harder for McCain to accomplish thanks to his association with Hagee, who in recent years has offended many, including but not limited to Catholics, homosexuals, Muslims and Harry Potter-author J.K. Rowling. He has suggested that Hurricane Katrina was God’s wrath for the city’s “gay parade” and he has called the Roman Catholic Church a “false cult system.” — Claire Hoffman, On Faith, Washington Post

How Iraq led to recession. An interesting side issue interview with Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz. — Tuzworld

Bugs Bunny v Daffy Duck: Now here’s the Obama-Clinton parallel: In every modern presidential election in which the candidates have personified a clear choice between Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, Bugs has prevailed. Go back to 1960, the first campaign in which television was the clear dominant medium. John “Bugs” Kennedy was cool, restrained, ironic. Richard “Daffy” Nixon was brooding, suspicious, scowling. — Jeff Greenfield, Slate

Peter Fray

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