Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Photo: Rick Wood Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama greets supporters gathered Tuesday at the Kohl Center on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.
By David Espo: The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Barack Obama powered past Hillary Rodham Clinton in the race for Democratic convention delegates Tuesday on a night of triumph sweetened with outsized primary victories in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
“Tonight we’re on our way,” Obama told cheering supporters in Madison, Wis. “But we know how much further we have to go,” he added, celebrating eight straight victories over Clinton, the former first lady now struggling in a race she once commanded.
The Associated Press count of delegates showed Obama with 1,210. Clinton had 1,188, falling behind for the first time since the campaign began. Neither was close to the 2,025 needed to win the nomination.
His victories were by large margins — he was gaining about 75 percent of the vote in the nation’s capital and nearly two-thirds in Virginia. In Maryland, he was winning about two-to-one.
By contrast, Clinton was attempting to retool her campaign in the midst of a losing streak. Her deputy campaign manager resigned, the second high-level departure in as many days.
Campaigning in Texas, where she hopes to triumph on March 4, she said she was looking ahead, not back.
“I’m tested, I’m ready. Now let’s make it happen,” she said.
Republican front-runner John McCain won all three GOP primaries, adding to his insurmountable lead in delegates for the Republican nomination. He congratulated Mike Huckabee, his sole remaining major rival and a potential vice presidential running mate, then turned his focus on the Democrats.
“We know where either of their candidates will lead this country, and we dare not let them,” he told supporters in Alexandria, Va. “They will paint a picture of the world in which America’s mistakes are a greater threat to our security than the malevolent intentions of an enemy that despises us and our ideals.”
Interviews with voters leaving the polls in Maryland and Virginia showed Obama split the white vote with Clinton, and his share of the black vote approached 90 percent. She led among white women, but he was preferred by a majority of white men.
In all, there were 168 Democratic delegates at stake Tuesday.
Obama moved past Clinton in the delegate chase on the basis of the day’s primaries and newly released results from last Saturday’s Washington caucuses. Additional delegates still to be allocated from his new victories were certain to add to his lead.
McCain’s victory in Virginia was a relatively close one, the result of an outpouring of religious conservatives who backed Huckabee.
Four in 10 Republican voters said they were born again or evangelical Christians — twice as many as called themselves members of the religious right in 2000 — and nearly 70 percent of them supported Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister.
Virginia voters could vote in either primary in their state. In a twist, Huckabee was running slightly ahead of McCain among independents, who cast about a fifth of the Republican votes there.
There were 113 delegates at stake in the three GOP races.
The AP count showed McCain with 789 delegates. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who dropped out of the race last week, had 288. Huckabee had 241 and Texas Rep. Ron Paul had 14.
It takes 1,191 delegates to clinch the Republican nomination, and McCain appears to be on track to reach the target by late April.
“Until someone gets that magic number, we still have an election process and there is no nominee,” Huckabee said. “And once that happens, we’ve got a nominee, it’s time to rally around him.”
The Democratic race was the definition of unsettled, with Clinton surrendering her long-held lead in delegates, having shed her campaign manager and lent her campaign $5 million in recent days, and facing defeats next week in Wisconsin and Hawaii.
As the votes were counted in her latest setbacks, her deputy campaign manager stepped down. Mike Henry announced his departure one day after Patti Solis Doyle was replaced as campaign manager with Maggie Williams, a longtime confidante of the former first lady.
Clinton hopes to respond with victories in Texas and Ohio on March 4, states where both candidates have already begun television advertising.
Since last week’s Super Tuesday contests in 22 states, Obama had won a primary in Louisiana as well as caucuses in Nebraska, Washington and Maine, all of them by large margins.
Obama has campaigned before huge crowds in recent days, and far outspent his rival on TV advertising in the states participating in the regional primary in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
He began airing commercials in the region more than a week ago, and spent an estimated $1.4 million. Clinton began hers last Friday, at a cost estimated at $210,000.
With Clinton facing a series of possible defeats, and Obama riding a wave of momentum, the two camps debated which contender is more likely to defeat McCain in the general election.
An Associated Press-Ipsos poll found Obama with a narrow lead over the Arizona senator in a potential match-up, and Clinton running about even.
“We bring in voters who haven’t given Democrats a chance” in the past, said Obama pollster Cornell Belcher, citing support from independents.
Mark Penn, Clinton’s chief strategist, countered that she holds appeal for women voters and Hispanics. “Hillary Clinton has a coalition of voters well-suited to winning the general election,” he said.