WASHINGTON — Illinois Sen. Barack Obama storms out of Wisconsin firmly in command of the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination and poised to inflict a potentially fatal blow to New York Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign.
Obama's victory in Wisconsin on Tuesday sends him into the next big contests, in Ohio and Texas, with genuine momentum — and a real chance to defeat her in one or both of the states that her campaign has set up as must wins.
Clinton could remain in the race all the way through the primaries in June and to the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August — neither candidate is anywhere close to having enough delegates to secure the nomination.
But a Clinton loss in either Ohio or Texas on March 4 would put her campaign in dire straits.
She would be hard-pressed to pry more money out of contributors who have little good news to justify another investment. She would find it difficult to squeeze more from an underfinanced and overstretched campaign organization. She would have a hard time winning over uncommitted "super delegates" who likely will hold the balance of power in a closely fought nomination.
Obama's win in Wisconsin was his 9th in a row, built on his normal base but now starting to eat into Clinton's as well.
Obama won by racking up solid majorities, as usual, among young people, more affluent and better-educated voters, and blacks.
But as he did last week in Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C., he also stole votes from Clinton's base among working-class voters and whites of both genders.
He led among men and split the women's vote, which often has gone to Clinton, according to a poll of Wisconsin voters exiting their polling places.
She led among less-educated and older voters, but not by enough to prevail.
Clinton ran a minimal campaign in Wisconsin, telegraphing early and often that she didn't expect to win there, and pulling out a day earlier than planned. She hoped that would diminish the impact of any Obama win there, but it also signaled to voters in Wisconsin and perhaps other states that she couldn't compete nationally.
It was a curious strategy, given that the demographics of Wisconsin arguably favored her and that had she stopped Obama there, she could have claimed momentum for herself heading into Ohio and Texas.
Wisconsin, after all, is a largely white state with a big working-class population, demographic slices that had gone to her in the past.
But in saving more of her punch for Ohio and Texas, she gambled that she would find a friendlier audience in those states.
And that was a gamble.
Ohio in many ways is similar to Wisconsin — and to such Midwest states as Missouri and Minnesota, which also voted for Obama.
All of them are predominantly white — ranging from 84 percent white to 88 percent white.
All of them have a small number of Hispanic voters — between 1.9 percent and 3.6 percent.
And all have large numbers of blue-collar factory workers — ranging from 21 percent of the workforce in Missouri to 27 percent in Wisconsin.
The one area where Ohio is demographically different from the rest of Obama's base in the Big 10 states is among African Americans. Ohio has twice as many African-Americans as Wisconsin — giving Obama a likely boost there and making it more challenging for Clinton.
Texas may be her better bet.
She expects an edge with the state's Latinos, who make up 36 percent of the population.
Clinton also hopes to cash in on her personal ties to the state, dating back to her work there with husband Bill on George McGovern's 1972 presidential campaign.
But March 4 will come up fast — and there's no doubt now that Clinton is running for her political life.