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Hillary takes decisive lead for Democrats

By Leonard Doyle in Washington

Hillary Clinton has widened her lead in the race for the Democratic nomination as once-sceptical voters now see her as the country's best chance for change.

In what is being described as a crossroads in the Democratic race, Mrs Clinton has opened up an astonishing 33-point lead over her closest rival Senator Barak Obama. Mrs Clinton so dominates the political landscape that a majority of Democrats, 53 per cent, say they support her in the latest Washington Post/ABC news poll. She has also taken over the lead from Mr Obama in the crucial fund-raising stakes and added thousands of new individual donors to her campaign.

Mrs Clinton's rivals have tried unsuccessfully to portray her as too polarising to win the election. As she moves a step closer to capturing the Democratic nomination, personal attacks on her character and that of her husband are expected to grow in intensity.

This week conservative opponents made hay with video clips of the so-called "Clinton Cackle," in which she bursts out laughing at inappropriate moments, especially when faced with tough questions. If she wins the nomination, Republican groups not linked to any particular candidate can be expected to unleash a barrage of attack ads focusing on the state of the Clinton's marriage, her capacity to lead a country at war with Iraq and preparing for conflict with Iran, as well as her support for universal or "socialised" health care.

But for Democrats desperate for change at the White House, Mrs Clinton is increasingly presidential. She runs a disciplined campaign and has adapted and changed while rarely putting a foot wrong in public.

By embracing the internet as an important part of her campaign, she has also won over many Democrats tired of old-fashioned politics. She has also dominated the new media, denying the oxygen of publicity to her rivals at key moments.

Events outside Mrs Clinton's control could knock her off course in an instant at any time over the next three months but the pace and sheer professionalism of her campaign has left her rivals gasping to keep up.

Her campaign's ability to manipulate the round-the-clock news media was on display this week when it diverted media coverage from her embarrassing vote to support the Iraq war five years ago by leaking her leadership in the fundraising stakes.

Just two weeks ago and following behind her rivals, Mrs Clinton unveiled her new healthcare proposals. She subsequently showed up on each of America's five Sunday-morning news shows on the same day –speaking not from a studio, but from her book-lined home where she managed to look relaxed and presidential at the same time.

Meanwhile, Bill Clinton was on the road promoting his latest book ensuring that one of the two Clintons appeared on television before millions of Americans.

Mrs Clinton's name recognition among voters helped her get off to a flying start. But the latest poll reveals that, three months before the first primaries in January, she is at last winning the affections of registered Democratic voters. Some 53 per cent of Democrats and independents likely to vote Democrat say they now support the Clinton campaign, compared with 20 per cent for Obama and 13 per cent for John Edwards.

Mrs Clinton's core support among women and committed Democrats is growing stronger. She has also overcome her weakness among male voters .

She will now benefit from "momentum money," the extra cash that pours in as donors line up to back an expected winner.

Belfast Telegraph

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