Clinton pulls ahead after trading victories with Obama

Posted in United States | 06-Feb-08 | Author: Patrick Healy| Source: International Herald Tribune

Support divided, top Democrats trade victories

Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama carved up the nation in the 22-state nominating contest on Tuesday, leaving the Democratic presidential nomination more elusive than ever. Clinton won California, Massachusetts, New Jersey and her home state, New York, while Obama took Connecticut, Georgia, Minnesota and his base in Illinois.

It was a night of drama as millions of Democrats cleaved sharply between two candidates offering them a historic first: The opportunity to nominate a woman or an African-American to lead their party's effort to reclaim the White House. Yet it was also a night when neither Obama nor Clinton could decisively lay claim ? or even secure an edge ? to the nomination, assuring an electoral fight that will unfold for weeks to come.

In remarks to their supporters in New York and Chicago, Clinton and Obama smiled broadly but were relatively low key in their assessments of the night, as if they knew that their state-by-state successes did not add up to the grand prize of Democratic standard-bearer. Both sounded a little tired at times, already exhausted by campaigning and fund-raising, with only more of both ahead.

The wild race from the East Coast to the Pacific began with the first results in Georgia, then Obama and Clinton traded victories about every 30 minutes. Preliminary vote figures in multiple states were close enough to spike adrenaline in the two camps as each sought an edge.

And throughout the night, uncertainty about the biggest delegate prize, California, vexed both campaigns. Early Wednesday, however, Clinton solidified her lead there, providing a huge morale boost to her team from a state that has long been a cornerstone of successful Democratic campaigns.

Missouri proved to be another story. Historically a presidential bellwether, the state was almost evenly split between the two Democrats at 1 a.m. Wednesday, with Obama leading by half of a percentage point.

Before California and Missouri were counted, an analysis by The Associated Press based on incomplete vote totals showed that Clinton had won 166 delegates and Obama had won 146 at stake Tuesday. All told, Clinton had 479 delegates and Obama had 386. Those figures are likely to change as the vote tallies are completed and delegates are awarded under complicated rules that vary from state to state.

The results and exit polls showed formidable strengths for each candidate, with Obama gaining appeal with white voters ? particularly white men ? and Clinton solidifying her support among Hispanics. Clinton won Democratic primaries in states that her party rarely carries in a general election, like Arkansas ? where she served as first lady ? as well as Oklahoma and Tennessee.

"Tonight we are hearing the voices of people across America ? people of all ages, of all colors, of all faiths, of all walks of life," a broadly smiling Clinton told supporters in New York just before 11 p.m. "Tonight, in record numbers, you voted not just to make history, but to remake America."

Obama, who appeared to be building momentum in recent days, held wide leads in states like Minnesota, and ran close behind her in states like New Jersey. That left him poised to pick up a hefty number of delegates, even in some states that Clinton won.

"There is one thing on this February night that we do not need the final results to know: our time has come," Obama said to cheers at a party in Chicago. "Our time has come, our movement is real, and change is coming to America."

Because most states gave nominating delegates to both Clinton and Obama based on vote proportions, as opposed to winner take all, the two campaigns were predicting on Tuesday that neither candidate would have a blowout lead, setting up an intensifying race as Louisiana, Washington, Virginia, Ohio and Texas hold nominating contests over the next four weeks.

A total of 1,678 pledged delegates were at stake in the 22 state contests on Tuesday, with 2,025 delegates needed to win the nomination.

Exit polls showed Obama winning a majority of men in many of the states ? in some places by substantial margins ? and doing particularly well among white men, blacks and young people. The polls showed three primary bases of support for Clinton: women, Hispanics and older voters.

As polls closed in the East and Midwest, Clinton advisers were initially worried about New Jersey, where Clinton had endorsements from Governor Jon Corzine and Senator Robert Menendez, and recognition for her work after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 in neighboring New York. While she was drawing votes from 60 percent of white and Hispanic Democrats, Obama had more than 80 percent of black votes. But as returns came in, she solidified a lead.

Obama convincingly won Georgia, with exit polls indicating that his support transcended racial lines by an even greater margin than in South Carolina, his earlier Southern primary victory.

More than half of Democratic voters in Georgia were black, and they strongly supported Obama, according to exit polls conducted by Edison/Mitofsky for the National Election Pool of television networks and The Associated Press. Obama also received more than 4 in 10 votes from white Democrats, winning about half of white men and 40 percent of white women.

Obama also carried Alabama, Colorado Delaware and Idaho. In Illinois, his home state (though he was born in Honolulu and Clinton in Chicago), he won 70 percent of men overall and two-thirds of both women overall and white men. His weakest showing was among older voters, with only half of them supporting him. He was strongly supported across income and education backgrounds.

The Clinton campaign, meanwhile, portrayed Massachusetts as an upset victory in an e-mail statement Tuesday night, noting that Senators Edward Kennedy and John Kerry and Governor Deval Patrick had endorsed Obama, who campaigned there on Monday. ( Clinton visited there twice and enjoyed a reservoir of support for her and her husband.)

"This is a strong victory and shows that Hillary Clinton has strength in places where Barack Obama was expected to win," the Clinton statement said.

Exit polls showed that Clinton continued to enjoy the same solid support from Hispanic voters that fueled her victory in the Nevada caucuses in mid-January. Exits polls indicated that she was receiving a majority of the Hispanic vote in all states, with Arizona being close. While most groups went for Obama in Illinois, Clinton won about 55 percent of Hispanic women.

Among Democrats voting on Tuesday, a majority said that they were most concerned about the economy, outpacing those worried about the Iraq war or health care. Nine out of 10 Democratic voters said the economy was in bad shape.

A majority of Democrats in most states said they believed that Clinton was best suited to be commander in chief, while Obama had a similar edge among Democrats regarding who was more likely to unite the country.

Obama was receiving at least half of the votes from white men in Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, and Illinois, and he received 4 in 10 in Missouri, New York and New Jersey. But Clinton appeared to have an edge in the delegate-rich state of Missouri late Tuesday.

He also won a majority of voters under 30 in most of the states. Similarly, Clinton received most of the votes from people over 65.

For months now, the Obama and Clinton campaigns have viewed Tuesday as a decisive moment in the presidential race. When Clinton lost the first nominating contest, in Iowa, she and her advisers noted that the 45 delegates at stake there were a mere fraction of the delegates at stake in the state contests on Tuesday.

Obama and his aides made similar remarks after his losses in New Hampshire and Nevada, and both he and Clinton increasingly spoke of the nomination fight as a two-way battle for delegates, pure and simple.

Clinton underscored this viewpoint by campaigning in California and Arizona, two states that voted Tuesday, in the week before the South Carolina primary ? signaling, in effect, that her strategy was much more focused on winning contests on Tuesday than on South Carolina, which Obama ended up winning in a rout.

Over the last week, however, public and private opinion polls have showed tightening races in states where Clinton had held substantial leads, including Massachusetts and New Jersey (where a combined total of 200 delegates were at stake) and California, which had 370 delegates.