Obama's train starts leaving the station, as Clinton's support erodes

Chris Dodd became the first former Democratic presidential candidate to endorse today, as he rallied behind his party's frontrunner. The reasons he gave were not necessarily that he wants Obama to be president more than Hillary, but rather that the train is leaving the station and slowing it down will only hurt Democrats in the fall: "It is now the hour to come together. I believe the hour has come now for us to make that choice – to stand up and say we’re going to get behind this candidacy... I don't want a campaign that is only divisive here, and there’s a danger of it becoming that."

Chris Dodd's endorsing Obama will have no significance in Ohio and Texas and the only state it could have mattered at all (CT) voted weeks ago. But the language he uses and the timing of his announcement exemplify why Clinton is so weak right now. Not only is she trailing in the delegate count, but she has to fight Obama's growing inevitability argument to prevent too many people from rallying behind him thinking that the primary is over. This is the position that she was in back in the fall, when she was picking up endorsement after endorsement. And now the roles have reversed, making it very difficult for Hillary to hope for a comeback.

To make matters worse, polls are continuing to show an erosion of her support in March 4th states, both in Ohio and in Texas. Yesterday, Obama took his first leads in Texas while Clinton kept a high single-digit advantage in Ohio. Today, three new polls underscore how close Clinton is to being forced out of the race:

  • In Ohio, Rasmussen has Clinton up 48% to 43%. A few days ago, Clinton's lead was 8%, and that was already a drop in support. It seems that Obama's campaigning on NAFTA is working, as an overwhelming majority think that he is opposed to NAFTA while the verdict is split about Clinton's position.

  • In Texas, meanwhile, it seems safe to say that Clinton is no longer the favorite. In the latest PPP survey, the two candidates are tied at 48%, though Hillary leads 52% to 44% among registered Democrats and is not weakening at all among Hispanics (68%). But Obama is getting strong results among Republicans and independents who, PPP notes, "plan to vote in the Democratic primary because of John McCain's status as the presumptive nominee."

  • Finally, SUSA gives the Texas lead to Obama, 49% to 45%, a 9 point swing in his favor in a week. Obama is picking up grounds among most groups, and holds Hillary to 52% among Hispanics.
  • Update: Add one more poll showing Clinton's support eroding. SUSA came out with its latest Ohio poll, and shows Clinton up 50% to 44%, holding firm thanks to a 22% lead among women (and a 37% gender gap). Two weeks ago, Clinton led by 17%. Last week, she led by 9%.
As I often note, don't forget that Obama will likely get more delegates out of Texas than his percentage would suggest, so even a 1% lead would give him a significant delegate lead -- and that's not even accounting for the caucuses. Clinton has to change the dynamics of this campaign in the final week in a dramatic way, and things like Chris Dodd's endorsement of the Illinois Senator underscore the challenge she faces that she first needs to explain how she can still win the nomination and try to slow down the Obama coronation.

Tonight's debate (the last one?) is one of her last chances to change the direction of the campaign.

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