Big wins for Clinton in Texas and Ohio; McCain clinches race

Posted in United States | 05-Mar-08 | Author: Adam Nagourney| Source: International Herald Tribune

Senator Hillary Clinton reacts to supporters cheers during a primary night rally Tuesday in Columbus, Ohio.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton defeated Senator Barack Obama in the Ohio and Texas primaries on Tuesday, ending a string of defeats and giving her a chance to soldier on in the Democratic presidential race.

Clinton also won Rhode Island, while Obama won in Vermont. The primary contest in Texas was close early Wednesday morning, but Clinton maintained her slim lead in the late returns. Texas Democrats were also having a caucus and Obama had an early lead in that.

By winning decisively in Ohio, Clinton was able to deliver her party's only victory speech of the evening. And the result there allowed her to cast Tuesday as the beginning of a comeback even though the full story of the results was not yet known and she stood a good chance of gaining no ground against Obama in the hunt for delegates.

"No candidate in recent history ? Democratic or Republican ? has won the White House without winning the Ohio primary," Clinton, of New York, said at a rally in Columbus, Ohio. "We all know that if we want a Democratic president. We need a Democratic nominee who can win Democratic states just like Ohio."

On the Republican side, Senator John McCain swept to victory in Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas and Vermont and claimed his party's nomination, capping a remarkable comeback in his second bid for the presidency.

McCain's main remaining rival, Mike Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas, announced he was dropping out minutes after the polls closed and pledged his cooperation to McCain. Aides to McCain said he would head Wednesday morning to Washington to go to the White House and accept the endorsement of President George W. Bush, his one-time foe, and begin gathering his party around him.

McCain, of Arizona, delivered his victory speech in subdued tones to a boisterous crowd of supporters in Dallas.

"Now, we begin the most important part of our campaign," he said, "to make a respectful, determined and convincing case to the American people that our campaign and my election as president, given the alternatives presented by our friends in the other party, are in the best interests of the country we love."

McCain proceeded to offer a preview of attacks for his Democratic rival.

"I will leave it to my opponent to propose returning to the failed, big-government mandates of the '60s and '70s to address problems such as the lack of health care insurance for some Americans," he said. "I will campaign to make health care more accessible to more Americans with reforms that will bring down costs in the health care industry without ruining the quality of the world's best medical care."

Clinton's victory in Ohio gave her, at the least, a psychological boost after a tough month in which she watched Obama, of Illinois, roll up victory after victory and build a lead in delegates. There was virtually no chance that Clinton could have survived had she lost both Ohio and Texas; her husband, former President Bill Clinton, said last month that his wife needed to win both states.

Mrs. Clinton will continue to find herself in a difficult position mathematically. Given the way the Democratic party allocates delegates, it remained possible that Mrs. Clinton could win the popular vote in as many as three states on Tuesday but end up winning fewer delegates than Obama.

Even before the polls closed, Obama's aides said that given their lead in delegates over Clinton, it was not possible for her to catch up in the few remaining contests.

Obama came out shortly before midnight to speak to a crowd in San Antonio, and laid out the argument his campaign would make in the days ahead.

"No matter what happens tonight," he said, "we have nearly the same delegate lead that we did this morning, and we are on our way to winning this nomination."

But Clinton's supporters, exultant over the victory, tried to cast the results in Ohio as a turning point in the race.

Clinton took the stage before a sea of waving white-and-blue "Hillary" signs and immediately portrayed her victory in Ohio as an indication of her electability in a general election. And she reprised a line of criticism against Obama that appeared to have gained her some traction in this contest.

"Americans don't need more promises," she said. "They've heard plenty of speeches. They deserve solutions and they deserve them now."

As she spoke, the crowd responded with chants of "Yes, she will!" ? apparently an orchestrated response to Obama's trademark "Yes, we can!"

Turning one of Obama's themes against him, she said, "Together, we will turn promises into action, words into solutions and hope into reality."

The results left the two parties at very different stages of the race. McCain's nomination has been all but assured for almost a month. His campaign looked to the results on Tuesday as an opportunity to begin framing the contest ahead. In contrast to his previous victory speeches, McCain made no mention of Obama, presumably because the result when he spoke was hardly clear.

Nonetheless, Obama called McCain at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday from his hotel room in San Antonio to congratulate him and said he looked forward to running against him, said Obama's press secretary, Robert Gibbs. Clinton said much the same in her acceptance speech.

The voting proceeded on a day of problems at the polls in both states, in part because of a recurrence of the huge turnouts that almost every contest to date has experienced. In Ohio, the Obama campaign asked a judge on Tuesday evening to keep polls open longer in Cuyahoga County because of paper ballot shortages.

The Texas vote was actually two contests, with a primary where two-thirds of the delegates were selected followed by a caucus where the remaining one-third were selected. The Clinton campaign claimed irregularities by Obama's supporters who, Clinton's aides said, sought to gain improper advantage in the caucuses.

The exchange suggested the tension between the two campaigns when Bob Bauer, an election lawyer for Obama, called into a conference call arranged by the Clinton campaign. The call had been set up to discuss the Texas caucuses, and Bauer challenged the assertions being made by Howard Wolfson, Clinton's communications director. The men, referring to each other by first names, engaged in a testy seven-minute exchange.

For Democrats, and particularly for Clinton, the contests were as consequential as any to date. After her defeats, she was looking to win at least Ohio and Texas to remain in the race.

To that end, Clinton delivered some of the toughest attacks of her campaign over the weekend, including a television advertisement that challenged Obama's national security credentials in Texas and attacks on Obama in Ohio over free trade and a meeting his economic adviser had with a Canadian diplomat about the North American Free Trade Agreement.

There was evidence that the attacks had some effects. Clinton did well among the 20 percent of voters in both states who said they made their decision in the last three days. She won about 60 percent of those voters in Texas and about 55 percent of those who voted in Ohio, according to exit polls poll conducted statewide by Edison/Mitofsky for the National Election Pool.

Surveys of voters leaving the polls showed Clinton doing well among Hispanics in Texas, a major target for her there, as well as among lower-income voters and women in Ohio, suggesting that she was reassembling the coalition that had broken down in her losing 11 straight state contests to Obama. Obama was showing strength among black voters who made up 20 percent of the Democratic electorate in both states.

In Ohio, Clinton's emphasis on economic issues helped her to some extent. Three-quarters of respondents said they were concerned about their families' financial situation, and more than half of those voted for Clinton. She also won a majority of union households in Ohio and, in a reversal of her standing in early races, won decisively among white men.