Obama Hopes to Clean Up February Contests

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Barack Obama was in Wisconsin on Tuesday when he got news of his primary victories in the District of Columbia, Virginia and Maryland. Wisconsin votes in less than a week, and the Obama campaign is looking for a clean sweep of the February states.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

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

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

You can trace the strategies of the leading Democratic presidential candidates just by noticing where they woke up this morning. Barack Obama crushed Hillary Clinton in three East Coast primaries yesterday - Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. But neither candidate spent the night at the scene of the voting.

Clinton has already moved ahead to campaign in primaries she hopes to win next month. Obama has moved on to what he hopes will be his next big win. And we begin our coverage with NPR's Don Gonyea.

DON GONYEA: The Obama campaign celebrated yesterday's primary trifecta on campus at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Once again it was a jam-packed basketball arena, this time with more than 18,000 in the stands. Wisconsin is next up in this year's race for the presidency, and Governor Jim Doyle, an Obama supporter, warmed up the crowd before the main act took to the stage.

Governor JIM DOYLE (Democrat, Wisconsin): He hasn't won one state straight or two straight or three straight. With Maryland, he has won eight straight elections.

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: Governor Doyle's tally includes six states, plus Washington, D.C., and the Virgin Islands. But the Obama campaign does seem to have developed some real momentum.

(Soundbite of applause)

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): This is how you guys do it in Madison, huh?

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: Senator Obama now leads Hillary Clinton in delegates, though only by about 20, and each candidate is roughly halfway to the magic number needed to secure the nomination. Last night in Madison, Obama said the states he has carried so far demonstrate his broad appeal, and his electability.

Sen. OBAMA: We have now won East and West, North and South, and across the heartland of this country we love.

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: The senator continued...

Sen. OBAMA: We have given young people a reason to believe and we have brought - and we have brought the young at heart back to the polls who want to believe again.

GONYEA: And more and more, Obama is looking to a potential general election match-up with Republican John McCain, whom he describes as a continuation of the policies of President Bush.

Sen. OBAMA: Senator McCain said the other day that we might be mired for 100 years in Iraq.

(Soundbite of booing)

Sen. OBAMA: A hundred years, which is reason enough not to give him four years in the White House.

GONYEA: Exit polls from Virginia show that Obama did well among young voters and African-Americans yesterday, as usual. But this time he also carried half the white vote and won both men and women by 60 percent or better.

The senator will spend much of the coming week in Wisconsin. Today, he delivers a speech on the economy at a large General Motors assembly plant in Janesville. He also has events in Racine and Waukesha. For now he's got the state to himself with Hillary Clinton campaigning in Texas, which votes on March 4th.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, in Madison, Wisconsin.

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What's at Stake in the Wisconsin Primary?

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Wisconsin college students en route to a mock Democratic convention, in which student delegates attempt to predict the presidential nominee. Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images

Did You Know?

• The Wisconsin primary is open, meaning registered voters can participate in either party's contests. Voters can register the day of the primary.

• Wisconsin offers Democratic candidates 74 delegates, and Republicans, 40.

• Wisconsin's population is 87.5 percent white.

The next few weeks are crucial for both Democrats and Republicans, as the presidential candidates try to earn enough delegates to secure their parties' nominations.

On the Democratic side, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton could use a win between now and key March 4 contests in Texas and Ohio. The Wisconsin primary on Feb. 19 offers Clinton the chance to disrupt Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's winning streak. Since Super Tuesday, Obama has won eight contests in a row — most recently, in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

For the Republicans, Wisconsin will offer Arizona Sen. John McCain the chance to pick up more delegates. The state's demographic make-up — overwhelmingly white, with a large number of Democratic, independent and progressive voters — favors McCain: These groups have been the bedrock of much of his support during the primaries.

Look for campaign stops and television ads in Wisconsin in the coming days. Both Obama and Clinton (through her daughter, Chelsea) have already begun campaigning in the state.

The Democrats

Candidates: New York Sen. Hillary Clinton; Illinois Sen. Barack Obama

What's at Stake: Clinton and Obama are battling for the 74 delegates at stake in Wisconsin — and for the momentum that victory there would bring them going into the March 4 nominating contests in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Wisconsin's demographics would seem to favor Clinton, since she has done well with white, working-class voters in many primaries this year (Wisconsin's population is 87.5 percent white).

But the state boasts a history of progressive politics that could benefit Obama. The 1960 primary, for instance, was crucial in helping John F. Kennedy win the Democratic nomination over rival and fellow senator Hubert Humphrey.

In 2004, Howard Dean's failure to win the Wisconsin primary essentially ended the former Vermont governor's presidential campaign. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry carried the state that year and went on to win the nomination.

If Republican voters decide that their party's nomination is already locked up, they — and independent voters — could decide to participate in the Democratic contest; Wisconsin allows voters to participate in either party's primaries.

The Republicans

Candidates: Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; Arizona Sen. John McCain; Texas Rep. Ron Paul

What's at Stake: McCain has far more delegates than his rivals and is still perceived as the party's front-runner, but Huckabee has managed to continue winning — most recently, in Louisiana and Kansas. On Super Tuesday, he did especially well in the South, winning Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, West Virginia and Arkansas.

While Wisconsin does have a segment of evangelical voters — a group that overwhelmingly helped Huckabee win the Iowa caucuses — they have not been very active in the state's past primaries.

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