Obama Is Victorious in Mississippi

By Anne E. Kornblut and Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama won the Mississippi Democratic presidential primary decisively last night, adding to his overall lead in delegates as he and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton plunged into a six-week battle ahead of a showdown in Pennsylvania.

While voters were casting ballots in Mississippi, the campaigns clashed over comments from Geraldine A. Ferraro, a Clinton supporter and the only woman to be a major party vice presidential nominee, who suggested that Obama has taken the lead in delegates only because he is black. Obama, she said, "would not be in this position" if he were white or a woman.

Obama called the statement "patently absurd," while Clinton dismissed it as "regrettable," saying she thoroughly disagrees with Ferraro's sentiment. Despite their comments, the controversy continued as Obama's advisers demanded a more dramatic renunciation and as Clinton campaign manager Maggie Williams accused the Obama team of fanning the race issue.

Both candidates appeared yesterday in Pennsylvania, which will hold its primary April 22, but Obama began the day campaigning in Mississippi, eating a breakfast of eggs "scrambled hard" at a diner in a down-at-the-heels strip mall in Greenville.

In an appearance on CNN after the Mississippi results started to come in, Obama said he thinks he remains on a course to victory.

"What we tried to do is steadily make sure that in each state, we are making the case about the need for change in this country," he said. "Obviously, the people in Mississippi responded."

With the Democratic nomination still up for grabs after two months of voting, despite Obama's clear lead in delegates, the campaigns continued to debate the merits of holding do-over contests in Michigan and Florida. Their delegates are barred from the Democratic National Convention because their state parties violated rules governing the scheduling of their primaries. Florida's House Democratic caucus issued a statement last night that tried to shoot down the idea of a mail-in contest, saying that it is "opposed to a mail-in campaign or any redo of any kind."

Obama began the evening with 1,579 delegates to Clinton's 1,473; 2,025 are needed to secure the nomination. The Clinton campaign had said that Obama was expected to triumph in Mississippi, where African Americans were expected to make up more than half of the primary voters. Still, Clinton campaigned in the state late last week, and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, and daughter, Chelsea, traveled there in the final days before the primary.

The latest racially charged exchange between the two camps began when Ferraro, the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 1984 and a fundraiser for Clinton, said in an interview with the Daily Breeze of Torrance, Calif., that if Obama were "a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman, he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept."

Her comments sparked an immediate firestorm. Obama campaign officials and surrogates expressed outrage, describing the remarks as the most racially provocative of the competition.

In a conference call with reporters, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), an Obama supporter, urged Clinton "to change the tone of her campaign." Axelrod accused the Clinton team of giving a "wink and nod at offensive statements" and called on it to cut ties with Ferraro.

"You're really telling your supporters that anything goes," he said, arguing that Ferraro was trying to "diminish Senator Obama's candidacy because of his race." Last week, it was an Obama adviser who caused controversy with a newspaper interview. Harvard professor Samantha Power, a key unpaid foreign policy adviser, resigned from his campaign and apologized after calling Clinton a "monster" who was "stooping to anything" to win the nomination. The Obama campaign condemned Power's comments while praising her previous service to the candidacy.

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