Obama, McCain score big wins in Wisconsin

Democrat Barack Obama easily beat rival Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin on Tuesday, extending his United States presidential winning streak and putting pressure on Clinton to win next month in Ohio and Texas to salvage her campaign.

The Obama win in Wisconsin pushed his hot streak to nine straight victories in Democratic nominating contests. Democrats in Hawaii, where Obama was born and is a heavy favourite, also were voting on Tuesday.

As the results rolled in, both Democrats looked ahead to March 4 showdowns in two of the biggest states, Texas and Ohio, which have a rich lode of 334 convention delegates at stake and where Clinton desperately needs to win.

”The change we seek is still months and miles away, and we need the good people of Texas to help get us there,” Obama said at a rally in Houston after noting his win in Wisconsin.

Up for grabs in Wisconsin and Hawaii were a combined 94 delegates to the August convention that selects the Democratic presidential nominee in November’s election. Obama has a slight lead in pledged delegates won in state presidential contests.

Republican front-runner John McCain also won in Wisconsin, taking another big step toward becoming his party’s nominee in the presidential election.

McCain, an Arizona senator, beat his last remaining major rival, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, to expand his huge and essentially insurmountable lead in delegates.

”Thank you Wisconsin for bringing us to the point where even a superstitious naval aviator can claim with confidence and humility that I will be our party’s nominee for president,” McCain, a former navy fighter pilot and Vietnam prisoner of war, told supporters in Columbus, Ohio.

McCain took direct aim at Obama in his victory remarks, previewing a possible general election match-up. ”Will we risk the confused leadership of an inexperienced candidate?” McCain asked.

”I will fight every moment of every day in this campaign to make sure Americans are not deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change that promises no more than a holiday from history,” he said.

Obama took his own shot at McCain, noting his support for President George Bush’s economic policies and his support for a prolonged US military presence in Iraq.

”He represents the policies of yesterday and we want to the be the party of tomorrow,” Obama said.

Meaningful win

Obama’s win in Wisconsin was particularly meaningful, coming in a general election swing state with a large population of blue-collar workers — a big part of Clinton’s constituency and a similar demographic to Ohio.

Like Ohio, the primary also was an open contest allowing participation by independents, and it was in a state where the battered economy has been a huge issue. Exit polls showed Obama won a majority of voters who said the economy was their top issue, and a majority of voters with no college degree.

Democrats open their caucuses for presidential preference voting in Hawaii at 5am GMT on Wednesday.

Clinton is the early favourite in both Texas and Ohio, although one public opinion poll in Texas on Monday showed the race in a statistical dead heat.

Clinton did not mention the Wisconsin results during a rally in Youngstown, Ohio, after the race was called.

”We can’t just have speeches. We’ve got to have solutions,” Clinton said. ”While words matter, the best words in the world aren’t enough unless you match them with action.”

Heading into the voting, Obama had 1 116 pledged delegates to Clinton’s 986, according to a count by MSNBC. A total of 2 025 are needed to win the nomination.

McCain had 835 delegates to Huckabee’s 243, with 1 191 delegates needed to win.

McCain also easily won a primary in Washington state, the second half of the state’s two-tiered nominating contest. The state’s Republicans held a caucus on February 9, won narrowly by McCain.

With his Wisconsin win, Obama shrugged off a weekend controversy over his uncredited use of speech lines from a friend and ally, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. Obama said he should have credited Patrick but dismissed the controversy as no big deal.

Clinton had argued the incident cast doubt on the authenticity of Obama’s rhetoric — one of the Illinois senator’s biggest selling points.

”The real issue here is, if your entire candidacy is about words, they should be your own words,” Clinton, a New York senator and former first lady, said in a satellite interview with a Hawaii television station. – Reuters

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