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Down to the Wire

Super Tuesday, when 22 states and American Samoa could decide the Democratic nominee, is one day away and no one knows what is going to happen. A new CBS News/New York Times poll shows Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton dead even nationally. Clinton led by as many as 15 points a month ago. But it’s the biggest prize of the contest, California, where only a week ago Clinton led by 17 points, that has everyone guessing.

One poll has Clinton strongly in the lead in the Golden State, several others show Obama close behind and, perhaps most surprisingly, a new Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll actually shows Obama ahead by double digits.

Of course, one of the recurring themes of this primary campaign has been the unreliability of polls, but statistics aren’t entirely without value. They are, after all, a matter of science, albeit a science that isn’t very good at predicting results in a close and extremely volatile election.

Volatile because, if one believes the numbers, Barack Obama has gained ground with extraordinary momentum.

That’s especially true in California, where the endorsements all seem to be breaking Obama’s way. There was the Los Angeles Times, the state’s largest paper, then La Opinión, the largest Spanish language newspaper in the country. The California Service Employees International Union gave him the nod. And When Oprah Winfrey stopped by UCLA to stump with Caroline Kennedy and Michelle Obama, she brought the state’s first lady, Maria Shriver, who announced that she, too, is supporting Obama. Even “Real Time” host Bill Maher announced his support on Friday.

The question is, will Obama’s momentum carry him to victory or will Hillary Clinton maintain her lead just long enough to win out and possibly secure the nomination.

That now appears unlikely. Super Tuesday is an important contest, but much more so for Clinton. She has been the front-runner in the biggest states by so much for so long that if it all fell apart over a week, it would devastate her campaign. Obama, on the other hand, could survive a loss in California, and even the other big states. He and his army of volunteers will have their work cut out for them, but as pollster John Zogby said, “The momentum is with Obama.”

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