Primary Results Reflect Pattern of Presidential Race

With Barack Obama picking up a big victory in North Carolina on Tuesday night, and Hillary Clinton pulling out a win in Indiana, the Democratic presidential race goes on.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

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A single day's primaries reflect the pattern of the Democratic campaign for president. Hillary Clinton won a tough state. She described it as another step toward the White House. Yet by the end of the night, Barack Obama was just a little further ahead. Clinton won Indiana by just two percentage points. Obama won North Carolina by 14.

And the superdelegates who will finally decide this close nomination were watching. Here's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON: Hillary Clinton had hoped to win Indiana by a big enough margin and lose North Carolina by a small enough one to narrow Obama's lead in delegates or in the popular vote. But neither happened last night. Obama's big win North Carolina overshadowed Clinton's squeaker of a victory in Indiana.

It was Obama's first primary victory in two months, and a huge relief for the Obama campaign - a sign that he was able to overcome, at least for now, the damage caused by the incendiary comments of his former pastor. He began his victory speech in North Carolina by reminding Clinton that she had once hoped to derail his momentum by winning this state.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Democratic Presidential Candidate): You know, there are those who were saying that North Carolina would be a game changer in this election.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Sen. OBAMA: But today, what North Carolina decided is that the only game that needs changing is the one in Washington, D.C.

(Soundbite of cheering, applause)

LIASSON: Obama's win added to his lead in delegates and popular votes. And because there are only 217 pledged delegates available in the remaining six contests, it makes it very difficult for Clinton to catch up. That's a point the Obama campaign has been making relentlessly, and it's one he drove home again last night.

Sen. OBAMA: Tonight, we stand less than 200 delegates away from securing the Democratic nomination for president of the United States.

LIASSON: Obama pivoted quickly to the fight he's confident he will be waging in the fall, a fight against John McCain - who, Obama said, plans to use the same old Republican playbook against him.

Sen. OBAMA: Yes, we know what's coming. I'm not naive. We've already seen it. The same names and labels they always pin on everyone who doesn't agree with all their ideas, the same efforts to distract us from the issues that affect our lives, by pouncing on every gas and association and fake controversy in the hopes that the media will play along.

LIASSON: Hillary Clinton was in Indiana, where she reminded her supporters that Obama had once predicted that Indiana would be the tiebreaker.

(Soundbite of applause)

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Democratic Presidential Candidate): Tonight, we've come from behind. We've broken the tie. And thanks to you, it's full speed on to the White House.

(Soundbite of applause)

LIASSON: Clinton's comments to continue fighting - and she is favored in at least three of the remaining six primaries: West Virginia, Kentucky and Puerto Rico - but it will be harder for her to raise the money to continue. Last night, some of her remarks sounded conciliatory, almost as if she was beginning to contemplate the possibility of losing the nomination.

She congratulated Obama and said they were both on the same journey.

Sen. CLINTON: I can assure you, as I have said on many occasion, that no matter what happens, I will work for the nominee of the Democratic Party because we must win in November.

(Soundbite of cheering, applause)

Unidentified Group: Yes we will. Yes we will.

Sen. CLINTON: And I know that Senator Obama feels the same way.

LIASSON: Clinton had hoped a strong showing last night would encourage the remaining undecided superdelegates to at least stay neutral. But after last night, the steady trickle of superdelegates to Obama will probably accelerate, with some ready to endorse him today.

Last night, Obama increased his lead in both pledged delegates and popular votes. Democratic strategist Tab Devine, an uncommitted superdelegate himself, says Clinton now has to consider her options.

Mr. TAB DEVINE (Democratic Strategist; Superdelegate): They have to make a decision: Do they want to stay in this thing until the voting is over? Or do they wan to look at the numbers right now and conclude that she simply can't get to the nomination? I suspect that they're going to want to stay and fight and probably wait till the end when the voting is over. It's just a question of what is the tone and tenor of the campaign between now and then.

LIASSON: The Clinton campaign already has a new argument. It now says that instead of 2,025 delegates, the Democratic winner needs 2,209, which would include the Michigan and Florida delegations. Those states were stripped of their delegates when they violated Democratic Party rules and held their primaries too early. The party's rules and bylaws committee meets at the end of this month to try to resolve the issue.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.

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Obama Wins N. Carolina; Clinton Takes Indiana

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

itoggle 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

itoggle caption Joe Raedle/Getty Images
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

itoggle caption Mark Wilson/Getty Images
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

itoggle 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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