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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 February 2008, 09:50 GMT
Democrats' epic battle too close to call
By Jamie Coomarasamy
BBC News, Washington

Barack Obama launching his presidential bid in February 2007
Springfield, February 2007: The Obama bid begins

Almost exactly a year ago, on a bitterly cold day in Springfield, Illinois, I watched, shivering, as an African-American man, in a long brown coat, loped onto stage and formally launched what he called his "audacious" presidential campaign.

Also in the crowd, were bus loads of students who had travelled from Chicago, hoping - as one of them told me - to be able to tell their grandchildren that they were there, at the beginning of a history-making run for office.

History was clearly on Barack Obama's mind that day. He chose to make his announcement on the same spot that Abraham Lincoln called for an end to slavery in his famous "a house divided" speech of 1858.

Now - according to the opinion polls - the Democrats find themselves a party divided; torn between the Illinois senator and his sole remaining rival for the presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton.

Nail-biting

Going into Super Tuesday, the race seems finely poised. Senator Clinton still enjoys a lead in the delegate-rich eastern states of New York and New Jersey, but is facing quite a challenge in California, which has the most delegates on offer.

Her rival, meanwhile, appears to have the edge in Georgia and Alabama; southern states with sizeable African-American populations.

But he is also polling well in Idaho and North Dakota, as well as in his home state of Illinois. It is nail-biting stuff.

In the month since the 2008 Presidential race moved from the post-debate spin rooms to the ballot boxes, there have already been enough plot twists to give Hollywood's striking screen writers food for thought.

DEMOCRATIC RIVALS
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton at a debate on 31 January at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles
Neck-and-neck race
Barack Obama: Illinois senator, hoping to become first black US president
Hillary Clinton: New York senator, wife of former President Bill Clinton, hoping to become first woman president

Even if the candidates' one head-to-head debate, in the Kodak Theatre - home of the Oscars ceremony - provided more fizzle than fireworks.

From endorsements by rival branches of the Kennedy clan, to the equivocal role of President Bill Clinton in his wife's campaign, there is plenty for voters in the Super Tuesday states to consider.

From a distance, at least. Unlike their counterparts in Iowa and New Hampshire, who benefitted from the up close and personal style of "retail politics", they've not been able to poke and prod the candidates metaphorically.

They're buying a product without having had the chance to sample it.

That's one of the reasons why - until recently - Hillary Clinton enjoyed a huge lead in the national polls.

She has the name recognition and profile that Barack Obama has been struggling to duplicate. His fundraising - $32m (16.1m) in January - has clearly helped him, but it's still not clear whether he's been able to convince enough people that his message of change trumps his rival's message of experience.

And if the money hasn't run out, what about the time?

If Barack Obama comes close to securing the nomination, but not close enough, one of the inevitable debates will be whether an extra week or two could have made the difference?

Hillary Clinton during a campaign stop in Massachusetts
Hillary Clinton: Enjoys solid support in Democratic ranks

Or, indeed, could the backing of more prominent Democrats?

For all the hype surrounding Senator Obama's celebrity endorsements (actor Robert De Niro was out campaigning for him on Monday), the former first lady still has the support of large swathes of the Democratic establishment; some of whom have the status of "super delegates", with a say in choosing the party's nominee.

She also has the odd tinseltown celebrity of her own - Jack Nicholson is the latest to be trumpeted by her campaign.

But Barack Obama has been picking up a steady string of senatorial endorsements and those super delegates don't have to show their hands until the party convention in August.

So will we have to wait that long? No one really knows, although there is general agreement that, come Wednesday morning, it's unlikely that the Democratic Party's nominee will be clear.

The way things stand, the magic number of delegates needed to secure the nomination is 2,025, but the party's system of allocating delegates on a proportional, district by district basis, militates against a conclusive result.

Not that it will prevent conclusions from being drawn.

And perhaps the most important one is whether a pattern has emerged.

Place in history

While momentum going into Super Tuesday is important (and there seems little doubt that it is with Barack Obama at the moment) the question is - which candidate, if any, will emerge from the contests with a pattern of victory to show for it?

This helps to explain why the well-financed campaigns have been spreading their resources across the range of Super Tuesday states and beyond.

Barack Obama has spent an estimated $10m on targeted adverts, such as Spanish language ones, designed to cut into Hillary Clinton's well-established advantage amongst Latino voters.

Senator Clinton has, herself, spent around $6m on TV ads, as well as talking herself hoarse on campaign stops.

Whoever wins this epic struggle will occupy a unique place in US history, as either the first woman or the first African American to head a presidential ticket.

Quite when they book their place there, is rather harder to say.

Select from the list below to view state level results.



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