This is Clinton's cue to hustle

Vermont's March 4 primary will be overshadowed by the far more important contests that day in Texas and Ohio. Still, a telling detail emerged this week from the Green Mountain State that illuminates the surprising course of the Democratic presidential race.

Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign announced it was in the process of sending three paid staff members to Vermont. "We know the state is considered an Obama state, but we think Hillary also has support here," Clinton backer Madeleine Kunin -- who served as Vermont's first, and so far only, female governor, from 1985-91 -- told the Burlington Free Press. "We're not writing it off."

The Clinton forces will, however, have to overcome Barack Obama's head start. His campaign, the Free Press reported, already has seven paid workers in the state who are helping operate four offices. Obama also has begun local television and radio ads (one of the latter featuring Vermont's most popular Democrat, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy).

It adds up to further evidence (if any was needed) of the degree to which the upstart in the race has out-hustled, in locale after locale, a more entrenched and experienced national figure.

The difference has been especially apparent in the aftermath of Super Tuesday. Since that Feb. 5 spate of primaries and caucuses, Obama has reeled off 11 straight wins (on Thursday, he was proclaimed the winner of the Democrats Abroad primary, an appropriate victory for a fellow who spent part of his childhood overseas).

Clinton's campaign clearly did not see, or prepare for, the magnitude of the wave that has hit it. Just after Super Tuesday, when Clinton enjoyed a slight advantage in the race, her communications chief, Howard Wolfson, acknowledged that Obama would do well the rest of this month. But he added, "not in a way that should permit him to overcome our lead in delegates."

In fact, that has happened, due to the stunning margins Obama has racked up. As NBC Political Director Chuck Todd noted after Tuesday's Wisconsin primary, Clinton's 17-percentage-point loss there was the closest she had come to Obama in the recent contests.

In its planning and logistics, the Clinton campaign got caught flat-footed. Now the political world is watching for it to display some nimbleness.

-- Don Frederick

Frederick is one of the writers of The Times' political blog, Top of the Ticket, at latimes.com/topoftheticket.

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