Barack Obama was riding high on Wednesday after a string of wins gave him a clear edge in the Democratic White House race, leaving Hillary Clinton desperately seeking victories in Texas and Ohio to keep her campaign alive.
Obama coasted to crushing victories in Virginia, Maryland and the United Sates capital on Tuesday, lifting his consecutive wins since last week’s neck-and-neck Super Tuesday nationwide showdown to eight.
Presumptive Republican nominee John McCain, meanwhile, landed his own triple primary triumph, but a tougher-than-expected showing from rival Mike Huckabee in Virginia reflected his struggle to close the deal with conservatives.
With Obama leading in all-important nominating delegates, raking in large amounts of cash and likely to win in Wisconsin and Hawaii next week, Clinton is effectively making her last stand on March 4 in delegate-rich Texas and Ohio.
The Illinois senator (46) celebrated his latest triumphs in mid-western Wisconsin, where he hopes to drive another dagger into Senator Clinton’s bid to be the first woman president on February 19.
”We won the state of Maryland. We won the Commonwealth of Virginia. And though we won in Washington DC, this movement won’t stop until there’s change in Washington DC,” he said.
Obama barely referred to Clinton, instead turning shi fire on McCain, in a preview of a potential November general election match-up.
”John McCain is an American hero. We honour his service to our nation,” said Obama, who has rocketed to the forefront of US politics in just four years, on a quest to be America’s first black president.
”His priorities don’t address the real problems of the American people, because they are bound to the failed policies of the past.”
As Clinton’s team suffered another night of losses, her deputy campaign manager, Mike Henry, reportedly resigned, two days after the former first lady decided to replace her campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle.
But a defiant Clinton showed no sign of giving up the fight.
”We’re going to sweep across Texas in the next three weeks, bringing our message about what we need in America, the kind of president that will be required on day one to be commander in chief, to turn the economy around,” she said after flying west, even before Washington area voting had closed.
”I’m tested. I’m ready. Let’s make it happen!” she told a rowdy rally in El Paso in a veiled reference to Obama’s perceived inexperience.
McCain (71) also seemed to preview a contest with Obama, striking the charismatic Democrat’s signature theme of ”hope”.
”Hope, my friends, is a powerful thing. I can attest to that better than many, for I have seen men’s hopes tested in hard and cruel ways that few will ever experience,” said the former Vietnam War prisoner.
”I do not seek the presidency on the presumption that I am blessed with such personal greatness that history has anointed me to save my country in its hour of need.
”I seek the presidency with the humility of a man who cannot forget that my country saved me.”
With most of the vote counted, Obama beat Clinton 64% to 36% in Virginia, 75% to 24% in Washington, and 59% to 34% in Maryland.
In a rolling count of nominating delegates by RealClearPolitics.com, Obama led with 1 259 to 1 210. A total of 2 025 delegates is needed for the Democratic nomination.
Message of hope
McCain led Republicans with 797 delegates to Huckabee’s 240. Republicans need 1 191 for the nomination.
Exit polling showed Obama making inroads into Clinton’s support base, in a trend that could spell disaster for her if repeated nationwide.
In Maryland, Obama won among men and among voters of every age group and income level, expanding his political base and auguring well for key states to come.
Exit polls in Virginia showed Obama triumphing in the former first lady’s normal bastion of women by 58% to 42%, and splitting another of her key power bases, white voters.
He won 90% of black voters and extended his hold on younger voters, many of whom are being turned on to politics for the first time by his soaring rhetoric and message of hope.
On the Republican side, McCain’s hardest-fought battle was in Virginia, where he beat Huckabee by just nine percentage points, 50% to 41%.
Exit polls showed McCain won conservatives by 43% to 36% in Maryland, but lost them to Huckabee in the more conservative Virginia, 51% to 38%.
In his victory speech on Tuesday McCain, who has garnered support from independent voters in the past, vowed to reach out to all voters, even ultraconservatives wary that his stances are too centrist.
”I will make my case to every American who will listen. I will not confine myself to the comfort of speaking only to those who agree with me,” he said. — AFP