By Dan Balz and Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton won victories over Sen. Barack Obama in California, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York last night, giving her presidential campaign a crucial boost. But Obama countered by winning of a string of states, including the general election battleground of Missouri, in the seesaw race for the Democratic nomination.
The results ensured that the fierce contest for delegates will continue into critical primaries in Texas and Ohio on March 4, and possibly beyond, in what has become the party's most competitive race in at least a quarter of a century.
Clinton claimed four of the five biggest prizes in Super Tuesday's 22-state Democratic competition. She also captured Arizona, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Those victories helped stem what appeared to be gathering momentum around Obama's candidacy since he won in South Carolina on Jan. 26.
But Obama won in more places than his New York rival, racking up victories in his home state of Illinois, as well as Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota and Utah. His narrow victory in Missouri came after Clinton appeared on the brink of winning there. Only the outcome in New Mexico remained unresolved early this morning.
In many of the states Clinton won, Obama had surged from far behind to narrow the gap in the days before Super Tuesday. Her ability to hold off his charge brought a sense of relief to her campaign advisers, but the likelihood that neither would emerge with a significant advantage in delegates was a sign that their roller-coaster competition would continue.
Clinton appeared before supporters in New York shortly before the polls closed in California, thanking her supporters for voting "not just to make history, but to remake America." Saying that Republicans want "eight more years of the same," she added, "They've got until January 20th, 2009, and not one day more." She also presented herself as a candidate who "won't let anyone Swift-boat this country's future."
Obama, who was in Chicago, came out later and, while congratulating Clinton on her successes, drew a contrast with his rival, saying voters in November deserve a clear choice between the Republican and Democratic nominees.
"It's a choice between going into this election with Republicans and independents already united against us, or going against their nominee with a campaign that has united Americans of all parties, from all backgrounds, from all races, from all religions, around a common purpose," he said. "It's a choice between having a debate with the other party about who has the most experience in Washington, or having one about who is most likely to change Washington, because that's a debate that we can win."
Clinton and Obama were fighting not just for state-by-state victories but also for an advantage in the nearly 1,700 delegates up for grabs yesterday. Aides to both candidates said that, regardless of how the two carved up the states, neither would emerge with enough of an edge to claim a substantial advantage.
Delegate tallies lagged well behind the state-by-state results, given the complex formulas the Democrats use to determine the allocation.
Clinton's victory in Massachusetts was especially sweet for her campaign, coming despite endorsements of Obama by Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kerry and Gov. Deval L. Patrick that gave him hope for substantial momentum heading into yesterday's primaries.
Her advisers called it "the biggest surprise of the night." Obama advisers had warned that Clinton's lead may be too large to overcome, but the loss was nonetheless a disappointment to his campaign.
Though the Clinton team immediately hailed Massachusetts as an upset, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino said in an interview just after the race was called that he was "not surprised at all" by her win in the state. Clinton won the Bay State largely on the strength of her support from women, who made up more than half the electorate from coast to coast.
Exit polls from the National Election Pool showed Clinton with a double-digit lead among women in the state, where she attended college as an undergraduate. She also won among self-identified independents, normally a solid constituency for Obama.
"We feel quite good about how those returns have come in," Mark Penn, the chief strategist for Clinton, said in a conference call with reporters shortly after 10 p.m. As he spoke, cheers erupted in the background at the campaign's headquarters in Arlington.
Penn argued that people who made up their minds late were trending toward Clinton, though early exit data suggested there was an even split between the two.
In a race that will come down to delegates, Clinton officials said they will wait to see results from all the states before declaring a delegate count -- but predicted she would ultimately be ahead.
"By the end of today, with pledged delegates and superdelegates, we expect to be ahead of Senator Obama in overall delegates," said Guy Cecil, Clinton's field director.
In the South, Clinton more than held her own. She lost Georgia -- one of only a few states where she lost among women; the same was true in Illinois -- but triumphed in Arkansas, her former home state, and Oklahoma and Tennessee. And the race continued to split along racial lines, as Obama won about eight in 10 African Americans, a trend that put him over the top in Georgia and Alabama.
Still, he won nearly four in 10 white voters in Georgia and fared better among white men there than he had in an earlier racially polarized race in South Carolina, giving his campaign a chance to claim that he had broadened his support in the intervening weeks. Victories in Connecticut and North Dakota bolstered that claim.
The race in Missouri remained close even as other states were called; an early tally in Clinton's favor proved premature as the night wore on. But the state reflected a wider sweep for Obama among African Americans: He won more than three-fourths of the state's black voters, while Clinton beat him among senior citizens by a margin of 2 to 1.
The demographics of the Democratic race suggested a contest that is dividing along racial and gender lines, as Clinton won 7 in 10 white women in New Jersey, as well as three-quarters of Hispanic women.
The candidates divided men in New Jersey evenly. In Tennessee, Clinton won white voters of all ages; Obama won blacks across the board. Similar splits occurred in California, where black voters chose Obama 5 to 1. But the two split the white vote in California, where Clinton made up the difference by winning Hispanics 2 to 1.
Twenty-two states held Democratic contests yesterday, with 1,681 pledged delegates to the party's national convention in Denver at stake. The 22 states account for 52 percent of all pledged delegates awarded during the nomination battle.
There will be 4,049 delegates attending the national convention; a candidate needs 2,025 to secure the nomination. Of that total, 3,253 are pledged delegates, which means their votes are determined by the caucus or primary results in their state. The remainder are superdelegates, who are free to vote for whomever they prefer.
Going into yesterday's balloting, Obama had 63 delegates to Clinton's 48 in the first four party-sanctioned contests of the year -- Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. Clinton held a lead among superdelegates. Various news organizations count the distribution of superdelegates differently, but Clinton is widely agreed to lead Obama by a margin of about 90.
Clinton voted in New York yesterday morning and spent most of the day conducting interviews, her voice on the verge of vanishing after days of cross-country campaigning. "The stakes are huge," she said as she cast her ballot at an elementary school near her Chappaqua home.
Obama voted in his home town of Chicago, at an elementary school in the Hyde Park neighborhood.
Throughout the day, Clinton advisers worked to play down expectations. Even before any polling stations were closed, Penn and senior adviser Howard Wolfson held a conference call with reporters to announce that Clinton had agreed to a series of debates between now and the March 4 primaries and invited Obama to join her. Doubting that they would be able to pull off a decisive victory yesterday -- and with a slate of races in the weeks ahead that they believe will skew in Obama's favor -- the Clinton campaign is now banking on doing well in Texas and Ohio on March 4. Penn said Clinton would participate in an ABC News debate Sunday, a Fox News debate Monday in Washington, a Feb. 27 CNN debate in Ohio and a Feb. 28 MSNBC debate in Houston.
"The campaign believes it's critically important that we continue the debates between Senator Obama and Senator Clinton," Penn said. "We think it's critically important that people get to see the candidates face to face."
Obama advisers declined to commit to a new round of debates. The next important competitive contests will be next Tuesday, when Maryland, Virginia and the District will hold primaries.
Staff writers Perry Bacon Jr., with Clinton, and Shailagh Murray, with Obama, and polling director Jon Cohen polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta and research director Lucy Shackelford in Washington contributed to this report.