McCain, Obama Win Three for Three

Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama both scored wins in primaries in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia on Tuesday. Obama handily beat Hillary Clinton in lopsided victories. McCain pulled off a narrow defeat of Mike Huckabee in Virginia.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne. Good morning.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Travel in any direction from the White House this morning, and you are traveling through territory dominated by Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama. They both won primaries in Washington and the surrounding states, Virginia and Maryland. McCain beat Mike Huckabee. And for Democrats, one surprise was who favored Obama. Hillary Clinton's opponent assembled a broad coalition of voters, including many women.

Here's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON: For the first time, Barack Obama is now ahead in the delegate count. According to the Associated Press, last night's wins left him with 1,212 delegates. Senator Hillary Clinton has 1,191. When the results came in, Obama was already in Wisconsin, where the next primary will be held.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Democratic Presidential Candidate): At this moment, the cynics can no longer say that our hope is false. We have now won East and West, North and South and across the heartland of this country we love.

(Soundbite of cheering)

LIASSON: Obama has been slowly growing his coalition of voters, and last night he did it by making inroads into Clinton's. Exit polls in Virginia, for example, show Obama won 90 percent of black voters, but he also won Latinos and the white vote - 52 to 47 percent. Clinton held on to white women, but by only six points. Obama won white men by a bigger margin.

Sen. OBAMA: This is the new American majority. This is what change looks like when it happens from the bottom up. We know that the status quo in Washington just won't do. Not this time, not this year.

LIASSON: Speaking at a rally in El Paso, Texas, Clinton made no mention of the fact that last night's results means she has now lost eight contests in a row. Her sights are firmly fixed on the two big March 4th primaries in Ohio and Texas, where she continues to lead in the polls.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Democratic Presidential Candidate): And we're going to sweep across Texas in the next three weeks, bringing our message about what we need in America, the kind of president that will be required on day one to be commander-in-chief, to turn the economy around. I'm tested. I'm ready. Let's make it happen.

LIASSON: Clinton's campaign is still in the midst of a staff shake-up. Yesterday, deputy campaign manager Mike Henry resigned, and earlier this week Patty Solis Doyle was removed as campaign manager. For voters like John Lloyd of Richmond, Virginia, last night represented an acceptance of something Obama has struggled to prove to Democrats: that is he is electable in the fall.

Mr. JOHN LLOYD: Well, initially, I thought that Barack Obama didn't have a ghost of a chance. I'm the grandson of slaves. When I cast a vote, their faces cross my mind.

LIASSON: In the Republican race, John McCain won all three primaries, but without the support of many of the most conservative Republicans. In Virginia, two-thirds of the 30 percent of voters who called themselves very conservative chose Mike Huckabee. But McCain is so far ahead in the delegate count that he could afford to take a not-so-subtle swipe at the man who, at least for the moment, is the Democratic front-runner.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Republican Presidential Candidate): Hope is a powerful thing. I can attest to that better than many, for I've seen men's hopes tested in hard and cruel ways that few will ever experience. And I stood astonished at the resilience of their hope in the darkest hours because it didn't reside in an exaggerated belief in their individual strength, but in the support of their comrades and their faith in our country.

To encourage a country with only rhetoric rather than sound and proven ideas, the trust and the strength in courage of free people, is not a promise of hope. It's a platitude.

(Soundbite of applause)

LIASSON: Huckabee spoke to his supporters in Arkansas, saying his strong showing in Virginia was reason to stay in the race.

Mr. MIKE HUCKABEE (Former Governor, Arkansas; Republican Presidential Candidate): There's still a real sense in the Republican Party of a desire to have a choice - a desire to make sure that the voters who want a solid conservative, absolutely pro-life candidate, still exists.

LIASSON: Huckabee says he didn't major in math in college. He majored in miracles. And he'll need a real one now to wrest the nomination from John McCain, who has more than three times as many delegates. Katie Valentine explained why she voted for McCain as she left her polling place in Maryland.

Ms. KATIE VALENTINE: We need somebody strong.

LIASSON: What was the most important issue for you?

Ms. VALENTINE: His view on war. We're there for a reason. You know, whether people like it not, we need to be there until the job's done.

LIASSON: Although his wins in D.C. and Maryland were much more comfortable, McCain could not miss the signs in Virginia that marked how much work he still has to do to unite his party behind him.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.

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Obama, McCain Sweep 'Potomac Primaries'

Huckabee i

Republican presidential hopeful and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee speaks to supporters at a campaign rally on Feb. 11 in Richmond, Virginia. hide caption

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Huckabee

Republican presidential hopeful and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee speaks to supporters at a campaign rally on Feb. 11 in Richmond, Virginia.

Democratic Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain swept the "Potomac Primary" on Tuesday, winning their respective parties' events in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

McCain's victories add to his extensive delegate lead in the race for the GOP nomination; the contests in D.C. and Virginia were winner-take-all. For his part, Obama has now won eight victories in a row (counting the Virgin Islands on Saturday) and pushed ahead of his rival, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, in the race for Democratic convention delegates.

Overall, Obama won about two-thirds of the 168 pledged delegates up for grabs in Tuesday's Democratic contests, while among Republicans, McCain collected 60 in Virginia, 16 in D.C. and a total of more than 100 of the 113 available on the day.

Speaking at a rally in Wisconsin, site of the next primary on Feb. 19, Obama told supporters, "This is the new American majority. This is what change looks like from the bottom up."

McCain looked toward the general election in his victory speech, saying that a much "bigger decision" lay ahead. "We don't know for certain who will be the Democratic nominee for president," he said, "but we know where they will lead the country."

McCain also thanked former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee for keeping the race "interesting."

"Maybe a little too interesting tonight," he added. Early results from Tuesday's voting showed McCain and Huckabee in a tight race in Virginia, though McCain eventually claimed the state with a 9 percent margin of victory.

In his concession, Huckabee told supporters that he would campaign until McCain received the 1,191 Republican delegates necessary to clinch the nomination. He added that Republican voters were not ready to embrace McCain, since there is still a "sense in the Republican Party to have a choice." But that message had far less punch tonight than it had a week ago, after Huckabee had won five states, or Saturday night, after he had won two of three events on the day.

For her part, Clinton looked ahead to future contests in her speech, which she delivered from a stage in El Paso, Texas. The Lone Star state is the most populous state that has yet to vote, and it will hold both a primary and evening caucuses on March 4.

"We're going to sweep across Texas in the next three weeks," she said. "I'm tested, I'm ready, let's make it happen."

Clinton's campaign lost another top staffer on Tuesday. Her deputy campaign manager stepped down, two days after Clinton's longtime campaign manager, Patty Solis Doyle, resigned.

Obama Overtaking Clinton's Base, Conservatives Support Huckabee

Exit polls conducted for the Associated Press and TV networks indicate that Obama made inroads into Clinton's base in Virginia. In addition to winning the overall vote two-to-one, Obama also won six in 10 women, about two-thirds of men and about half of white voters. All this was in addition to the overwhelming domination of the black vote that has been characteristic of every Obama victory.

Among Republicans in Virginia, four in 10 Republican voters said they considered themselves evangelicals, according to exit polls; roughly 70 percent of them supported Huckabee. Huckabee also did well in Virginia with self-described conservatives, who make up two-thirds of the state's Republicans. McCain led two-to-one among moderates.

While McCain is considered the front-runner for Republicans, and while he has more than three times as many delegates as Huckabee, he has yet to earn the full support of his party's most loyal voters. As exit polls from Virginia attest, Huckabee continues to receive support from the party's more conservative, evangelical voters.

Rough Week for Clinton

For Clinton, the past week has been rough. She lost all of last weekend's voting contests to Obama — in Louisiana, Washington state, Nebraska and Maine; the public learned that she had to loan her campaign $5 million; and she replaced top staffers in her campaign.

Clinton characterized her losses last weekend as expected, saying that Obama has always done better in caucus states such as Washington and Nebraska. She also tried to deflate her supporters' expectations, saying she was focused on the upcoming contests in Ohio and Texas.

Leading up to the Potomac Primaries, Clinton campaigned in both Maryland and Virginia, launching campaign ads and dispatching her husband to a half-dozen campaign events.

Obama's victories in Washington, D.C., and Maryland had been expected; both have large populations of African-Americans, a demographic that has overwhelmingly supported him in voting so far. Washington, D.C., has the largest concentration of blacks in the country, with roughly 55 percent. Maryland has the fifth largest, with 28.9 percent.

Obama has been on a winning streak since Super Tuesday. Undefeated in the series of voting events since that day, he has now won more than 20 states to Clinton's 10. He raised $7.2 million in the day-and-a-half following Super Tuesday. His campaign boasted that it has 650,000 contributors that were responsible for smaller donations (which can be crucial to a campaign when large fundraisers have maxed out their contribution levels).

From NPR staff reports and the Associated Press

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