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Clinton’s hold on California slipping *

by Brad A. Greenberg

February 5, 2008 | 5:49 pm

Polls in more than half of the 24 states holding primaries or caucuses today are still open, but Barack Obama has already surprised the Clinton campaign with a dominant win in Georgia (that’s based on returns from about 10 percent of the precincts.)

It’s almost inconceivable that Hillary Clinton could struggle in her home state of New York, but her campaign suggested today that they’re no longer confident about a big win in California.

“We’re confident we’re going to win a diverse mix of states today, but the results are going to be close and inconclusive due to the proportional allocation of delegates under the Democratic Party rules,” said Howard Wolfson, Clinton’s communications advisor. “We do expect to maintain the overall lead in delegates tomorrow when we wake up that we do today.’‘

Clinton’s strategists said they could see the fight going through March and possibly onto the convention floor in Denver in August—great sport for political junkies but a test of nerves for the candidates. And even if Obama gets more delegates today, Clinton’s advisors said her lead among “super delegates’’—party leaders and elected officials who are free to vote as they choose—would still give her the overall lead. But that would just add to the perception that she’s the mainstream choice, and fuel Obama’s contention that he’s the candidate of change.

So how did Clinton lose her dominant position in California, a state she once led by 16 poll points?

Wolfson: “Sen Obama has put considerable resources into the state. He’s had large rallies, he’s had great surrogates coming out to urge his supporters to vote…. Much to their credit the state is close. I don’t think we’re going to know who has won California until very late into the night. That’s just the way politics is. The election wasn’t 30 days ago. It’s today. And as of today it’s very close.’‘

How much of this has to do with the fact that Obama has been winning the war of religious rhetoric is unclear. Christian Democrats split their votes in Georgia between the two. By tomorrow we should have a better understanding.

* Updated: The surprises just don’t stop. Shortly after I posted this, Clinton was forecasted the winner of Massachusetts, despite Obama have received the endorsement of most of the Kennedy family.

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