By Dan Balz and Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Sen. Barack Obama swamped Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in Maryland, Virginia and the District yesterday, extending his post-Super Tuesday winning streak and forcing Clinton onto the defensive as the Democratic presidential race moves toward a showdown in Ohio and Texas on March 4.
On a day when there was huge turnout in the area, the senator from Illinois won Virginia with about 64 percent of the vote. In Maryland, where the polls were kept open an additional 90 minutes because of bad weather, he was winning with about 60 percent to Clinton's 37 percent. He was headed for an even bigger win in the District, where he was attracting about 75 percent of the vote.
The lopsided wins mean Obama will emerge with a clear majority of the 168 pledged delegates at stake in the area, as well as a widening lead overall among the more than 65 percent of pledged delegates who have now been accounted for nationally. When superdelegates are added to the calculations, Obama and Clinton are still in a highly competitive race, but Obama has seized the overall lead.
Obama's victories came after a weekend in which he decisively won primaries and caucuses in Louisiana, Nebraska, Washington state and Maine. Those states gave him a boost after he and Clinton split the nearly 1,700 delegates awarded on Feb. 5, when 22 states voted in Democratic contests.
Speaking to an overflow audience at the University of Wisconsin at Madison last night, an ebullient Obama said: "Today, the change we seek swept through the Chesapeake and over the Potomac. We won the state of Maryland. We won the Commonwealth of Virginia. And though we won in Washington, D.C., this movement won't stop until there is change in Washington, D.C., and tonight we're on our way. At this moment, the cynics can no longer say our hope is false."
Obama had his most impressive night of the competition, not just in the size of his victory margins but in the breadth of support he attracted from men and women, young voters and old, African Americans and whites. The results left Clinton, the one-time front-runner for the Democratic nomination, in a deep hole.
Clinton, who has argued that change comes from action rather than rhetoric, was in Texas as the results were coming in. She did not acknowledge Obama's victories when she addressed a huge rally at the University of Texas at El Paso, but promised to make the coming weeks of the campaign a clear choice.
"You know, there's a great saying in Texas -- you've all heard it: 'All hat and no cattle,' " she said. "Well, after seven years of George Bush, we need a lot less hat, and a lot more cattle." Then in an apparent swipe at both Bush and Obama, she added: "Texas needs a president who actually understands what it's going to take to turn the economy around, to get us universal health care."
Obama's winning streak, his large margins and the prospect of more victories next week put Clinton in a tenuous position, despite the close delegate competition. Even before yesterday's results, Clinton had announced a team shakeup, replacing campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle with Maggie Williams, her White House chief of staff when she was first lady.
Last night, campaign officials confirmed that deputy campaign manager Mike Henry had resigned and will be replaced by Guy Cecil, who had been helping to oversee delegate operations.
Obama is favored to win next week's contests in Hawaii and Wisconsin. That will leave Clinton to look to Ohio and Texas to blunt his momentum, as she has done twice to his attempts to take control of the race.
Howard Wolfson, Clinton's communications director, said the campaign "will do as well as we can and fight hard for every vote" in Wisconsin. He added that the team remains optimistic about Ohio and Texas.
Clinton advisers see those states as friendly -- Ohio because of its economic problems and sizable blue-collar population, and Texas because of its large Latino vote, which the senator from New York carried impressively in earlier contests. Democratic strategists said last night that Obama's victories will make those contests more competitive.
"I don't buy the momentum argument," Wolfson said. "We have seen time and time again that candidates with momentum did not win the state they were supposed to win. . . . Voters make independent judgments about who they think is the best person. Momentum is a media narrative, not something voters consider."
Several Democratic strategists questioned that view. "Just trying to hold on until Texas and Ohio while Obama picks up more and more steam is a very risky strategy for Clinton," one, who requested anonymity to be candid, wrote in an e-mail.
Clinton advisers consider upcoming debates in Ohio and Texas critical opportunities to shift voters' focus away from Obama's winning streak and to the differences between the candidates. "We're in the solutions business and he's in the promises business," one senior adviser said.
Turnout at polling sites across the Washington metropolitan region soared. Voters seized on the opportunity to help decide the Democratic nomination after years in which the competition has largely been over before reaching the area.
Election officials reported potentially record-breaking turnout for a primary across the region, with hour-long waits at many polling places and shortages of "I voted" stickers. Maryland and Virginia broke some patterns of past contests between Obama and Clinton in the shape of the candidates' support, according to exit polls from the National Election Pool.
Obama strategist David Axelrod noted those results as he waited for the senator to take the stage in Wisconsin last night. "You can see some of the coalition filling in now," he said. "We exceeded our expectations. We won across all kinds of demographic groups and answered a lot of questions in that regard. It was a great day."
As in other states, Obama racked up huge margins among black voters in Maryland and Virginia. Clinton won a majority of white women, as she has throughout the nominating season, but Obama won white men in Virginia and split that group in Maryland.
Obama also led Clinton in almost every age category, a break from previous contests in which he won younger voters but Clinton often carried older voters. Obama's biggest margins were among those younger than 45, but he also led among those ages 45 to 60. He and Clinton split voters age 65 and older.
In earlier primaries, Obama won liberals while Clinton captured moderates. Yesterday, he was winning both groups. In the past, he won among wealthier voters while she won among the less affluent, but yesterday he was winning both decisively. He also won voters who have no college degree -- normally a group that favors Clinton. Obama easily carried independents, as he has in the past, but he also won among Democrats, where Clinton has been stronger.
About half of voters in Maryland and Virginia cited the economy as their top concern, similar to results in other states that have already held a primary or caucus. Yesterday, Obama won that group decisively.
Obama also beat Clinton among voters who named health care as their top concern, even though this has been an area of strength for Clinton. Almost a third of Democratic voters in Maryland and Virginia called the Iraq war the biggest issue in the campaign, and Obama beat Clinton among these voters by 2 to 1.
In Virginia, Obama handily beat Clinton in Hampton Roads, Northern Virginia and almost all of the state's central counties, including Richmond and its suburbs. In vote-rich Alexandria and Arlington, which has a growing immigrant population and many affluent young professionals, he bested her by more than 20 percentage points.
But Obama's success also extended into the outer suburbs. He won Prince William and Loudoun counties, even though Clinton's team believed that she could do well there by winning over women.
Younger and well-educated voters also flocked to Obama. In Albemarle County, home of the University of Virginia, he had nearly 70 percent of the vote with all of the precincts reporting. He also had narrow leads in several overwhelmingly white rural counties in the northern Shenandoah Valley.
But Clinton was winning big in Southwest Virginia's coal country, underscoring that Obama continues to struggle in connecting with working-class Democrats.
According to preliminary results in Maryland, Obama swept the Washington-Baltimore corridor, gaining huge majorities in mostly-black Prince George's County and Baltimore City. He also appeared to carry Anne Arundel, Charles, Howard and Montgomery counties by comfortable margins.
Clinton was doing relatively well in Maryland among traditional Democrats in small towns and in rural counties, including winning several counties on the Eastern Shore and in the western part of the state.
Unlike Virginia, where any registered voter can participate in the Democratic primary, Maryland's contest was limited to those registered with the party.
The party's primary split the Washington region's elected officials. In Maryland, Gov. Martin O'Malley and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski backed Clinton.
But in Virginia, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, the state's three Democratic congressmen and half of the Democrats in the state Senate supported Obama.
Staff writers Anne E. Kornblut with Clinton and Peter Slevin with Obama, polling director Jon Cohen and polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.