Obama and McCain sweep 3 primaries
Wide margins in Maryland, D.C., and Virginia
WASHINGTON: Senator Barack Obama rolled to victory by big margins in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia on Tuesday, extending his winning streak over Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to eight Democratic nominating contests.
The outcome provided him his first chance to assert that the Democratic race, which had seemed to be heading into a protracted standoff, is beginning to break in his direction. And it left Clinton facing weeks in which she has few opportunities for the kind of victory that would alter the race in her favor after a string of defeats notable not just for their number but also their magnitude.
In Tuesday's contests, Obama showed impressive strength among not only the groups that have backed him in earlier contests ? blacks, younger voters, the affluent and self-described independents ? but also among older voters, women and lower-income people, the core of Clinton's support up to now, according to exit polls. Obama also won majorities of white men and Hispanic voters in Virginia, though not in Maryland.
On the Republican side, Senator John McCain won in Virginia over Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, all but eliminating any threat that Huckabee might have posed to McCain's status as his party's all but certain nominee.
Huckabee got a boost from conservative and evangelical Christian voters in the state, but not enough to overcome McCain's vote among moderates and non-evangelical Christians. McCain also prevailed in Maryland and the District of Columbia, and turned his attention to attacks on the Democrats.
McCain said his Democratic opponents "promise a new approach to governing, but offer only the policies of a political orthodoxy that insists the solution to government's failures is to simply make it bigger."
He also said of Huckabee, "He certainly keeps things interesting maybe a little too interesting at times tonight, I must confess."
In all, 168 pledged delegates were at stake for the Democrats and 116 for the Republicans. The Democrats will divide delegates proportionally to the candidates' vote statewide and at the congressional level while the Republican races were winner-take-all.
Obama's victories gave him a lead over Clinton among pledged delegates, according to preliminary counts by the Obama campaign and some news organizations. Obama aides calculate that he also leads in delegate counts that include so-called superdelegates, the party officers and elected officials who control 20 percent of the total delegates to the Democratic convention.
Clinton's campaign has suffered in recent weeks from overspending and internal upheaval, including the demotion of the campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, late last week and the resignation Tuesday of the deputy campaign manager, Mike Henry.
Obama, looking ahead to the next contest, was in Madison, Wisconsin, when the results came in. In remarks to a boisterous rally, he did not mention Clinton by name. But over loud applause he declared, "We also know that at this moment the cynics can no longer say our hope is false. We have now won east and west, north and south, and across the heartland of this country we love."
Clinton essentially conceded the three contests Tuesday morning by leaving Washington to campaign in Texas. She scheduled four days of appearances in Wisconsin, which holds its primary next Tuesday, but where Obama already has a significant ground operation and is spending heavily on advertising. Hawaii, where Obama largely grew up, also holds its nominating caucuses next Tuesday. But the Clinton campaign's major efforts will be in Texas and Ohio, which vote on March 5. Rhode Island and Vermont also hold primaries that day.
Clinton's advisers say she will focus on winning over voters in Ohio and Texas to halt Obama's growing momentum and to try to stay close in the count of pledged delegates. The Clinton campaign hopes that Ohio, with large numbers of lower-income and older voters, and Texas, with a large Latino electorate, will serve as a seawall against the Obama surge. The Clinton campaign is also looking to Pennsylvania, which votes on April 22, to provide another big-state victory and to stay competitive in the delegate chase.
"We are going to sweep across Texas in the next three weeks bringing our message about what we need in America, the kind of president we need on Day One to be commander in chief and turn the economy around," Clinton said at a rally in El Paso Tuesday night, making no reference to her losses back East. "I'm tested. I'm ready. Let's make it happen."
But in the meantime, Obama will have a chance to begin convincing his party that his series of convincing wins in the last week represents a turning point in the campaign and that now is the time for Democrats to begin rallying around him as the strongest candidate to take back the White House.
Turnout was brisk in all three jurisdictions, with long lines at polling stations but few serious problems reported. Bill O'Field, spokesman for the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics said that turnout had surpassed previous primaries and some precincts ran out of paper ballots but that voting was never halted because the stations had electronic voting machines as well.
In Maryland, polls stayed open an extra 90 minutes, until 9:30 p.m., because of bad road conditions caused by sleet and freezing rain.
Three in 10 voters in Tuesday's Republican primary in Virginia described themselves as very conservative, and two-thirds of them supported Huckabee. And six in 10 evangelical Christians, who accounted for nearly half of Republican voters here, backed Huckabee.
McCain, for his part, had an edge among voters who said they were "somewhat" conservative, as well as broad support among moderates and non-evangelical Christians.
But the exit poll further underscored some of McCain's potential vulnerabilities among conservatives going forward. Half of all Republican voters in Virginia said his positions on the issues were not conservative enough. And while 7 in 10 conservative voters said they would be satisfied if McCain wins the nomination, fewer than four in 10 of them would be "very" satisfied.
Obama's strength in Virginia and Maryland crossed a range of demographic groups, according to exit polls conducted by Edison/Mitofsky for the National Election Pool. He received support from voters across all income and education levels, as well as across political ideologies, from those who described themselves as liberal, moderate and conservative Democrats. And independents, who were allowed to vote in Virginia's Democratic primary and accounted for 2 in 10 voters there, supported Obama two to one over Clinton.
Clinton received the support of a majority of white women voting in Virginia and Maryland, but Obama countered with overwhelming support among black voters, men and women alike. Among white men, Obama won a majority in Virginia and ran close to Clinton in Maryland.
The two Democratic candidates roughly split the white vote in the two states, while Obama was backed by nearly 90 percent of black voters.
More than six in ten men in both states supported Obama, as did a majority of women, big changes from numbers in earlier primaries.