Wisconsin Voters Give Obama Decisive Victory

By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama won the Wisconsin Democratic primary decisively last night, extending his winning streak to nine consecutive contests and dealing another significant blow to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose imperiled presidential candidacy now hangs on the outcome of showdowns in Ohio and Texas in two weeks.

After a week of sparring that included the first negative ads of the campaign, Obama emerged victorious in a critical general-election battleground state. For the second week in a row, the senator from Illinois made inroads into the coalition that Clinton has counted on to carry her to the nomination -- women and white working-class voters -- while rolling up big margins among white men.

In Wisconsin's Republican primary, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) won an easy victory over former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, moving him ever closer to clinching the party's nomination. In his speech afterward, McCain all but dismissed Clinton as a potential adversary, focusing his rhetorical fire on Obama as offering an "eloquent but empty call for change."

Obama celebrated his win at a boisterous Houston rally attended by an estimated 19,000 people and exhorted them to give him another important push toward the Democratic nomination in Texas's March 4 primary. "Houston, the change we seek is still months and miles away, and we need the good people of Texas to help us get there," he said. "We will need you to fight for every delegate it takes to win this nomination."

Mindful of McCain's attacks, he struck back at the likely GOP nominee. "I revere and honor John McCain's service to his country. He's a genuine hero," Obama told the audience at the Toyota Center. "But when he embraces George Bush's failed economic policies, when he says he's willing to send our troops into another 100 years in Iraq, then he represents the party of yesterday, and we want to be the party of tomorrow."

Clinton was in Ohio, the other big March 4 state, appearing at a rally in Youngstown, where she did not acknowledge the Wisconsin results and another setback that pushed her further from the nomination that at one time seemed hers almost for the asking. She focused instead on the road ahead and the choices she said confront Democratic voters.

She told the audience: "One of us is ready to be commander in chief in a dangerous world. . . . One of us has a plan to provide health care for every single American -- no one left out. . . . One of us has faced serious Republican opposition in the past. And one of us is ready to do it again."

With 90 percent of the precincts in Wisconsin reporting, Obama had about 58 percent of the vote to Clinton's 41 percent. Aides to Clinton said she called Obama to congratulate him after the outcome became clear.

If the Wisconsin campaign was any indication, the next two weeks could be the most negative of the Democratic race. The Clinton team has seized on a series of issues and Obama statements to challenge his readiness to be president and his credibility as a candidate. Obama has not shied from firing back, using his stump speeches to issue pointed rebuttals of Clinton's criticism and airing response ads to her television commercials, while his advisers have sparred with Clinton's in a flurry of daily conference calls and press releases.

An opening test for the candidates will come Thursday night in Austin, when the candidates meet in their first debate since before the Feb. 5 Super Tuesday contests. Clinton's campaign sees that debate, and a second one next Tuesday in Cleveland, as her best opportunity to shift voters away from talk of Obama's growing momentum.

There were 74 convention delegates at stake in Wisconsin last night, along with 20 in Hawaii, where that state's caucuses were being held too late for East Coast newspaper deadlines. Obama was favored to win there.

Even before Wisconsin and Hawaii, Obama held a lead over the senator from New York in delegates awarded in the primaries and caucuses. When superdelegates -- the 795 members of Congress, governors and other party officials with automatic credentials for the Democratic National Convention -- are included, he is still ahead, but by a narrower margin.

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