New polls gave Hillary Clinton fresh hope yesterday, as she chased White House rival Barack Obama, on the eve of two primaries which could shape the end-game of their marathon battle.

Clinton and Obama face voting contests today in North Carolina and Indiana, the next steps in their battle for the Democratic presidential nomination to take on presumptive Republican nominee John McCain in the November election.

The Democratic rivals set off on last minute campaign swings through Indiana and North Carolina, which hold primaries today which offer Obama the chance to finally knock Clinton out, or for her to ignite a comeback.

Obama and Hillary renewed their battle over gas tax relief yesterday in a late push for support on the eve of critical presidential showdowns in North Carolina and Indiana.

The candidates, embroiled in a grueling nominating struggle that has split the party, wooed working-class voters and launched new television advertisements attacking each other ahead of today’s votes.

For the first time in three months, the former first lady led her rival in the survey of national Democrats, by seven percentage points. Two weeks ago before the latest storm over Wright hit, Obama was up 10 points.


Another poll, by Suffolk University in Indiana, showed the New York senator leading Obama in the state by six points 49 per cent to 43 per cent.

Clinton’s muscular talk on Iran puts her well to the right of her Democratic challenger Barack Obama in their heated White House rivalry, but could also presage a new US policy of containment.

Clinton standing by her threat made last month to “obliterate” the Islamic republic should it use nuclear weapons on Israel, whose US backers form one important constituency in the Democratic nominating race.

Obama and Clinton made last-ditch appeals for votes ahead of North Carolina and Indiana’s Democratic presidential primaries today, conceding that regardless of who wins those crucial contests, their bruising battle was likely to drag on for weeks.

In a day of frenetic campaigning, Clinton and Obama argued over her plan to combat surging petrol prices – a key issue for voters hard hit by the struggling US economy.