Election 2008

Obama's N.C. Win Expands His Delegate Lead

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Barack Obama won the North Carolina Democratic primary Tuesday by a wide margin. He narrowly missed capturing the Indiana contest. The results have re-energized the Illinois senator's quest for the presidential nomination.


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Renee Montagne is away. I'm Steve Inskeep.

Hillary Clinton wasn't shut out yesterday. She won the state of Indiana, one of two primaries where she faced an intense contest. But Clinton won only narrowly in that state over Barack Obama, and on the same night that Obama carried North Carolina, decisively.

Clinton did not manage to change the game, which raises the question of how long the Democratic nomination contest will go on. We have two reports on that question, starting with NPR's Don Gonyea.

DON GONYEA: Senator Obama held his election night party in the state where he knew it would be a victory party. In a basketball field house at North Carolina State in Raleigh, he took to the stage early - 9:00 p.m.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): Thank you so much. Thank you, North Carolina. Thank you.

GONYEA: And Obama did something unusual in his speech. With votes still being tallied in Indiana and the race there still way too close to call, he had this for his rival, Hillary Clinton:

Sen. OBAMA: I want to start by congratulating Senator Clinton on what appears to be her victory in the great state of Indiana. I want to thank all the people...

(Soundbite of booing)

Sen. OBAMA: ...I want to thank all the wonderful people of Indiana who worked so hard on our behalf.

(Soundbite of cheering)

GONYEA: Indiana did go to Clinton by 22,000 votes out of a more of a million cast, but for a while last night and very early into this morning, it appeared that perhaps Obama's concession had been premature. Still, Obama's speech signaled that for his campaign a big win in North Carolina along with a close contest in Indiana added up to a very good day for the frontrunner, especially given the past two weeks, which included the controversy over his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, were as rough as he has had as a presidential candidate.

Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod.

Mr. DAVID AXELROD (Campaign Strategist): I mean, I think that no one can deny that that was - you know, that story dominated the news at the beginning of the week at a time when we wanted to be talking about something else, and it wasn't helpful. And I think the fact that it did dominate the news and we've done as well as we've done tonight, it really says something about the durability of this candidacy.

GONYEA: Axelrod also said there's no denying the math. Obama's lead in delegates got larger again last night, and the odds against him losing that lead in the remaining six Democratic primaries are very long.

Obama, meanwhile, in his speech in Raleigh also spoke to what has been a major concern for many Democrats, that the brutal nomination fight and the divide within the party that it has revealed will hurt the party's chances of winning the White House in November.

Sen. OBAMA: Yes, there has been bruised feelings on both sides. Yes, each side desperately wants their candidate to win. But ultimately this race is not about Hillary Clinton, it's not about Barack Obama, it's not about John McCain. This election is about you, the American people.

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: Obama predicted a fully united Democratic Party come the fall and he hinted that he would soon be turning his attention to that fall campaign.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Raleigh, North Carolina.

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Obama Wins N. Carolina; Clinton Takes Indiana

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Sen. Barack Obama delivers his victory speech following the North Carolina primary.

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama addresses supporters after winning the North Carolina primary on Tuesday. Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images
A Clinton supporter cheers after seeing the early returns of the Indiana primary.

Supporters cheer as early returns show a lead for New York Sen. Hillary Clinton in the Indiana primary in the Egyptian Room of the Murat Centre on Tuesday in Indianapolis. Joe Raedle/Getty Images hide caption

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Michelle Obama shakes hands at a rally in North Carolina.

Michelle Obama and her husband, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, greet the crowd at the North Carolina State University arena on Tuesday in Raleigh, N.C. Mark Wilson/Getty Images hide caption

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Voters in North Carolina go to the polls.

Voters cast their ballots at the Williston Middle School polling station on Tuesday morning in Wilmington, N.C. Logan Mock-Bunting/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Logan Mock-Bunting/Getty Images

Sen. Barack Obama won a decisive victory in North Carolina's Democratic primary Tuesday, while rival Sen. Hillary Clinton held on to win a squeaker of a race in Indiana.

The split result means that the epic struggle for the Democratic presidential nomination will likely continue through the last primaries on June 3.

Clinton campaigned aggressively in the Hoosier State, trying to build on her victory in Pennsylvania last month. She had a large lead in early returns, but saw it shrink as the results came in from Indianapolis, Bloomington and Gary, which were Obama strongholds. She won by a margin of about 22,000 votes out of more than 1.2 million cast.

In North Carolina, the largest prize remaining in the nomination fight, Obama had 56 percent of the vote to Clinton's 42 percent. The Illinois senator received more than 90 percent of the African-American vote and about 40 percent of white votes in the state, according to Associated Press exit polls. He also won among every age group except voters older than 65.

Indiana exit polls showed that Clinton got the majority of votes from white men, as she did in Pennsylvania and Ohio. And she made gains with a couple of groups that have been part of Obama's core support, splitting the votes of younger white voters and voters with incomes of at least $100,000 a year.

There were a total of 187 delegates at stake in Tuesday's primaries — 115 in North Carolina and 72 in Indiana.

Obama Calls for Unity

Addressing his supporters in Raleigh, N.C., Obama predicted that Democrats will be unified in November, no matter whom the party nominates. "Yes, there have been bruised feelings on both sides," Obama said. "This fall, we intend to march forward as one Democratic Party, united by a common vision for this country. Because we all agree that at this defining moment in history — a moment when we're facing two wars, an economy in turmoil, a planet in peril — we can't afford to give John McCain the chance to serve out George Bush's third term."

Indiana superdelegate Joe Andrew, who served as Democratic National Committee chairman during Bill Clinton's second term and who recently switched his allegiance from Clinton to Obama, called the address "the first speech of the general election."

Clinton Declares Victory in Indiana

Even before the Indiana primary's outcome was decided, Clinton told supporters in Indianapolis that she intended to fight on. "Tonight we've come from behind," she said. "Thanks to you, it's full speed ahead on to the White House." She vowed to work her heart out in West Virginia and Kentucky, which hold primaries later this month.

With her options for overtaking Obama in the delegate count dwindling, Clinton once again called on the Democratic Party to count the contests in Florida and Michigan, which were stripped of their delegates as punishment for moving their primaries up to January. Clinton won in both states, but neither candidate campaigned in them and Obama's name was not on the ballot in Michigan.

Economy on Voters' Minds

Two-thirds of Indiana voters and nearly as many in North Carolina said the sputtering economy was their top issue, according to exit polls. Clinton and Obama have sparred in recent weeks over what to do about the skyrocketing cost of gasoline. Clinton, like presumptive Republican nominee McCain, advocates eliminating the federal gas tax for the summer. Obama has called it a gimmick and said a tax cut would be the way to help the middle class deal with rising costs.

Only about 20 percent of voters in both states said that the war in Iraq was their top issue and even fewer picked health care.

The State of the Race

Obama's victory in North Carolina — his first win in a large-state primary in nearly three months — came on the heels of several rough weeks for his campaign. His loss to Clinton in Pennsylvania by just over 9 points was followed by renewed controversy over inflammatory remarks by his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. Exit polls indicated that voters in both North Carolina and Indiana were equally divided on whether the controversy mattered to them. Among white voters who said it did matter, roughly 80 percent went for Clinton.

But by winning North Carolina and keeping Indiana close, Obama demonstrated that he's a survivor and still a strong contender. He eased the worries of some Democrats that he would use his pledged delegate lead to "run out the clock," so to speak, and just limp across the finish line when the primaries ended in June.

Clinton was hoping that Tuesday's primaries would be a "game changer." Instead, the contests were seen as a lost opportunity to cut into Obama's apparently insurmountable lead in pledged delegates. More importantly, she'd hoped a strong showing would convince the unpledged superdelegates that she would be the best candidate to take on McCain in November because of her support among white, working-class voters.

Clinton campaign strategist Geoff Garin says she still can make that argument. "On the crucial issue of the economy and among the crucial swing voters, I think there's a very strong and persuasive case that she offers a lot more to the Democratic Party in terms of a victory in the fall and offers more to the country," Garin told NPR.

McCain Campaigns in N.C., Too

Perhaps wanting to be where the action is, McCain has been campaigning in North Carolina for the past couple of days. At Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem on Tuesday, the Arizona senator blasted Obama for being one of 22 senators to vote against the confirmation of John Roberts as chief justice of the Supreme Court and vowed that he would appoint conservatives to the bench.

Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor responded that McCain was promising "four more years of out-of-touch judges that would threaten a woman's right to choose, gut the campaign finance reform that bears his own name and trample the rights and interests of the American people."

Clinton also voted against Roberts. Her campaign accused McCain of pandering to the right wing by "elevating the interests of big business over the rights of workers and consumers, affirming executive branch power grabs, and undermining our common core freedoms."

From NPR reports and The Associated Press.



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