Obama extends streak with wins in Hawaii and Wisconsin

Posted in United States | 20-Feb-08 | Author: Patrick Healy and Jeff Zeleny| Source: International Herald Tribune

Senator Barack Obama greets supporters as he arrives onstage during a campaign event Tuesday night in Houston.

McCain wins a commanding victory over Huckabee in Wisconsin

Senator Barack Obama decisively beat Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Wisconsin primary and the Hawaii caucuses on Tuesday night, accelerating his momentum ahead of crucial primaries in Ohio and Texas and cutting into Clinton's support among women and union members.

With the two rivals now battling state by state over margins of victory and allotment of delegates, surveys of voters leaving the Wisconsin polls showed Obama, of Illinois, making new inroads with those two groups as well as middle-age voters and continuing to win support from white men and younger voters ? a performance that yielded grim tidings for Clinton, of New York.

On the Republican side, Senator John McCain of Arizona won a commanding victory over Mike Huckabee in the Wisconsin contest and led by a wide margin in Washington State. All but assured of his party's nomination, McCain immediately went after Obama during a rally in Ohio, deriding "eloquent but empty" calls for change.

For Obama, Wisconsin was his ninth consecutive victory, a streak in which he has not only run up big margins in many states but also pulled votes from once-stalwart supporters of Clinton, like low- and middle-income people and women.

Clinton wasted no time in signaling that she would now take a tougher line against Obama ? a recognition, her advisers said, that she must act to alter the course of the campaign and define Obama on her terms.

In a speech in Ohio shortly after the polls closed in Wisconsin, she alluded to what her campaign considers Obama's lack of experience, and his support for a health insurance plan that would not initially seek to cover all Americans.

"This is the choice we face: One of us is ready to be commander in chief in a dangerous world," Clinton said in the remarks, which she also planned to expand upon in a speech in New York City on Wednesday. "One of us has faced serious Republican opposition in the past ? and one of us is ready to do it again." Clinton did not mention the Wisconsin results; she did, however, call Obama to congratulate him on the victory.

As Clinton was speaking, Obama appeared on stage at a rally in Texas, effectively cutting her off as cable television networks dropped her in midsentence, a telling sign of the showmanship power of a front-runner.

"Houston, I think we achieved liftoff here," Obama told a crowd of 20,000 people in that city as he hailed the voters of Wisconsin. "The change we seek is still months and miles away, and we need the good people of Texas to help us get there."

With 90 percent of the electoral precincts in Wisconsin reporting, Obama had 58 percent of the vote to Clinton's 41 percent. On the Republican side, McCain had 55 percent to Huckabee's 37 percent. And early returns in Washington State showed him with 48 percent of the vote to Huckabee's 21 percent.

In Wisconsin, the survey of voters leaving the polls found that Democrats believed Obama would be more likely than Clinton, by 63 percent to 37 percent, to defeat the Republican nominee in the fall.

Her latest loss narrowed even further Clinton's options and leaves her little, if any, room for error. Her road to victory is now a cliff walk.

By the calculation of her own aides, she now almost certainly will need to win the next two big contests, Texas and Ohio on March 4, as well as Pennsylvania on April 22 in order to maintain a viable claim to the nomination and stop so-called superdelegates from breaking for Obama. But there has been evidence this month that Obama is building momentum with each victory, and recent polls have suggested that Clinton's once-large lead in Ohio and Texas is shrinking.

What is more, it may not be enough at this point for Clinton to simply win Ohio and Texas. She needs delegates to catch up with Obama; under the rules by which the Democratic Party allocates delegates, she will need to win double-digit victories to pick up enough delegates to close the gap.

Finally, Clinton continues to struggle to find a way to try to raise questions about Obama and stop what has been a rush of voters to his side. Her Tuesday night speech about Obama's experience level was one of her toughest yet; still, she has been making similar arguments for months now, and they have not caught fire thus far.

With his Wisconsin victory, Obama moved into a lead over Clinton in delegates; going into the vote, he had 1,078 delegates to Clinton's 1,081, according to a count by The New York Times. Wisconsin had 74 pledged delegates in play, while Hawaii had 20 pledged delegates.

Although Wisconsin borders Obama's home state, Illinois, the primary presented a challenge because of the large share of blue-collar workers, a group that he has struggled to win over. Yet the results represented a turnaround for Obama: About one-third of voters in the Democratic primary came from union households, and they split their votes evenly between Clinton and Obama, according to a statewide exit poll conducted by Edison/Mitofsky for the National Election Pool.

By contrast, in the Feb. 5 primaries in New Jersey and California, two states Clinton won, the percentage of Democratic voters from union households was also about one-third of those surveyed by Edison/Mitofsky, but they supported Clinton more strongly than in Wisconsin.

About 6 in 10 white men voted for Obama, while white women split evenly between him and Clinton, the polls showed. Clinton turned in another strong performance with voters over the age of 60, meanwhile.

In forging ahead, Clinton advisers say she is determined to win strongly among women and union members in Ohio and Texas, and cited a number of factors that they were counting on: Clinton's performance in televised debates in each state this month, including one in Texas on Thursday; her increasingly populist message at campaign rallies; attacks by her and her advisers on Obama's authenticity; and her continuing portrayal of him as inexperienced.

On the Republican side, McCain declared victory in Wisconsin shortly after the polls closed and continued rolling past his last major challenger, Huckabee, toward the goal of winning the 1,191 delegates needed to seal the party's nomination.

But surveys of voters gave evidence of misgivings about his candidacy: more than 4 in 10 voters said McCain was not conservative enough; conservative voters split their votes evenly between the two men. And Huckabee won a majority of the vote of the one-third of evangelical voters who participated in the Republican primary.

Addressing a packed ballroom in Columbus, Ohio, McCain said to cheers that he would urge the nation not to be "deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change that promises no more than a holiday from history" and warned against risking "the confused leadership of an inexperienced candidate." He did not even allude to Clinton.

Both Democrats have been increasingly sounding populist notes recently to reflect the economic concerns of voters. In her remarks in Youngstown on Tuesday night, Clinton allied herself with Americans working on the "night shift" ? a phrase that is also the title of a new advertisement that began running in Ohio on Tuesday night. The ad ends with an image of Clinton doing paperwork, illuminated by a lamp, as a narrator says, "She's worked the night shift, too."

While Clinton drew some of her largest crowds to date in Texas, her decision to spend time away from Wisconsin troubled some of her supporters, who believed she had erred in not campaigning enough in states she lost recently, like Maine.

Obama's audiences, meanwhile, were filled with a tapestry of supporters ? young and old, black and white ? many of whom said they had been following the presidential race as it unfolded in neighboring states like Iowa.

Mary Liedtke, a defense lawyer in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, said she had been a supporter of Clinton. But in the final weeks of the Iowa caucus campaign, she said she had become inspired by Obama's supporters.

"Some elderly women I've heard say, 'I want to see a woman president before I die,' and I know that's why some of them are supporting Hillary," Liedtke said in an interview after seeing Obama last weekend in her town.

"But you know what? That's a selfish reason to vote for a president just because you want to see a woman before you die," she added. "What about the kids coming up? I feel we should vote for the young people."