Clinton's bid for the Democratic presidential nomination roared back to life Tuesday night, guaranteeing that her intense duel with Obama will continue at least through Pennsylvania's April 22 primary.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s flagging bid for the Democratic presidential nomination roared back to life Tuesday night with victories in the Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island primaries. Her comeback guarantees that her intense duel with Sen. Barack Obama will continue at least through Pennsylvania’s April 22 primary.
Clinton’s three triumphs ended a month of defeats for the former first lady, and she told jubilant supporters, “We’re going on, we’re going strong and we’re going all the way.”
By winning primaries in both big states, Clinton stopped cold the 46-year-old freshman senator’s run as the front-runner, and although she’s still trailing him in pledged delegates, she got a second wind.
Obama, who won Tuesday’s Vermont primary, insisted the contest was still his to lose, citing his continuing edge in the delegate count. “We know this: No matter what happens tonight, we have nearly the same lead as we did this morning, and we are on our way to winning the nomination,” the Illinois senator told cheering fans at a late-night rally in San Antonio.
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The two rivals also competed for support in caucuses in Texas that began 15 minutes after the state’s primary polls closed. Caucus results were incomplete late Tuesday night.
Tuesday’s results mean the Democrats’ chaotic and increasingly rancorous nominating process will almost certainly drag on to the next big faceoff in Pennsylvania.
Democrats worry whether the damage from the fight might hurt their party in the fall campaign.
If nothing else, the final week of the campaigns in Texas and Ohio showed much tougher tactics, leading Democrats to wonder how much damage the party could suffer, especially as the Republicans are settled on McCain as their nominee.
“We know no matter what, this race is going to Pennsylvania and it’s even more likely this could go all through June,” Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh said. “We’ve never seen anything like this.”
Wyoming will hold caucuses Saturday, and Mississippi has a primary Tuesday. But neither is likely to reshape the essential dynamic of the contest.
Although she’s claiming momentum and the label of “comeback kid,” Clinton faces an uphill climb. Unless she gets roughly 60 percent of the delegates in each of the upcoming contests, she cannot catch Obama, who leads by about 100 delegates. That has led some to say she should bow out of the race.
That seemed unlikely Tuesday night. At a raucous victory party in Ohio’s capital city, the New York senator told a ballroom full of backers, “As Ohio goes, so goes the nation. Well, this nation’s coming back and so is this campaign.”
On Tuesday, voters responded as they have throughout the campaign, turning out in record numbers.
In Ohio, they braved raw, late-winter weather, including freezing rain in the north and flood warnings across most of the state. Citing the conditions, and a shortage of paper ballots in some precincts, state officials went to court to extend the polling hours in several places.
Obama, bidding to become the nation’s first black president, entered the day with 12 consecutive victories and hoped to force Clinton from the race by taking Ohio and Texas. A combination of factors helped push Clinton in the winner’s circle, political observers said, and most occurred in the last few days before the primaries. Not only did she consistently emphasize national security and experience, but she portrayed Obama as weak and out of his league when it came to serious foreign policy and security issues.
Additionally, her campaign hammered Obama on his relationship with friend and fundraiser Tony Rezko, whose trial in Chicago on political corruption charges started Monday.
Daron Shaw, a political scientist at the University of Texas and a former Bush campaign adviser, said exit polling indicated that most undecided voters broke for her in the three days leading up to Tuesday’s vote.
“It looks like her campaign was able to make big gains at the end,” Shaw said.
Getting Obama on the defensive for the first time in the campaign is likely just the opening act for the political battle ahead.
The candidates head into the Wyoming caucus Saturday, where Obama has an edge because his strong grass-roots organization has proved nearly unbeatable in caucus states. On Tuesday is Mississippi, which has a large number of African-American voters who have consistently backed Obama.
Compiled from Los Angeles Times, The Associated Press, Denver Post and McClatchy Newspapers.
|How the candidates fared in Tuesday’s contests, in voting percentages and delegate allocations*:|
|* Precincts reporting: 86 percent in Vermont, 98 percent in Rhode Island, 91 percent in Ohio, 86 percent in Texas|