Everybody leads with yesterday’s primaries, where Sen. Hillary Clinton won key victories in Ohio and Texas primaries, which marked another comeback for the former first lady and assured Democrats that the fight for the nomination will continue. Sen. Barack Obama won Vermont, and Clinton received more votes in Rhode Island. The New York Times points out that Clinton achieved victory in Texas by a small margin, but her earlier, more decisive, win in Ohio allowed her to “deliver a televised victory speech in time for the late-night news.” By breaking her opponent’s winning streak, Clinton effectively “jolted a Democratic Party establishment that was beginning to see Obama as the likely nominee,” says the Washington Post. USA Today mentions that Obama had hoped to “provide a knockout punch” yesterday, and the Los Angeles Times says Obama looked “disappointed” last night even as he emphasized that he continues to lead in delegates. Everybody notes that despite the momentum that Clinton might gain from the high-profile victories, she still faces an uphill battle to narrow Obama’s lead.
On the Republican side, Sen. John McCain won all four contests and clinched the Republican nomination. His main rival, Mike Huckabee, dropped out of the race soon after polls closed and vowed “to do everything possible to unite our party.” In his victory speech, McCain lumped the two Democratic contenders and made it clear that he will continue talking about how neither one is fit to lead the country. “I will leave it to my opponent to propose returning to the failed, big-government mandates of the ’60s and ’70s to address problems such as the lack of health-care insurance for some Americans,” he said. McCain will travel to the White House today, where he will officially accept President Bush’s endorsement. The Wall Street Journal‘s print edition closed before Clinton’s victories were evident, and the paper emphasizes that McCain now has to raise lots of money and figure out how to “transform his shoestring primary campaign into a machine able to win the presidency,” particularly since he’s made it clear that he wants to compete in reliably Democratic states.
Clinton won the primary vote in Texas by a narrow margin, but all the papers remind readers Obama could still get more delegates out of the state because of its complicated voting system that allocates 35 percent of delegates through caucuses that began after the polls closed. Results from the caucuses aren’t in yet, but Obama was leading before counting stopped for the night.
Despite the fact that Clinton “will continue to find herself in a difficult position mathematically,” as the NYT puts it, winning in both Texas and Ohio was exactly what Clinton needed to effectively challenge calls for her to withdraw from the race. Before the Texas results were known, Clinton dedicated her Ohio victory to everyone “who’s ever been counted out but refused to be knocked out, and for everyone who has stumbled but stood right back up.” So, how did she do it? Mostly by regaining the blocs of voters that had been an integral part of her base but lately seemed to be switching to Obama. Her biggest advantage was with white voters who don’t have a college education, with whom she led by 25 percentage points in Texas and almost 40 points in Ohio. Surveys showed Hispanics and women also supported Clinton by wide margins.
Exit polls showed she had a clear advantage among late-deciding voters, suggesting that her attacks against Obama in the last few days worked as intended. In a Page One analysis, the LAT says Clinton “seemed to finally figure out how to make her brand of ‘experience’ compete with a mantra of ‘change.’ ” And now she can continue saying that Democrats need a nominee who can win the big, battleground states. Still, as the NYT points out in its own analysis, Clinton is “viewed by many party leaders as an obstacle to the fight ahead.” There are concerns that a continued negative tone in the Democratic campaign could hurt the party’s chances in November. Others (including Slate‘s Christopher Beam) argue that Democrats could benefit from a long fight that will continue to energize voters while helping the eventual candidate figure out how to best fend off attacks from the Republicans. But the LAT cites an interesting statistic from exit polls that suggests “negativity will take its toll.” In previous contests, Democrats overwhelmingly said they’d be satisfied with either candidate, but in Texas and Ohio only four in 10 expressed the same sentiment.
The unusually high number of voters who wanted to express their opinion in yesterday’s primaries led to problems in Ohio and Texas. Paper ballots ran out in several places in Ohio and some polls were left open for an additional 90 minutes. In Texas, there was chaos at several caucus sites that were filled to capacity, and Clinton’s campaign said Obama supporters were unfairly trying to gain an upper hand in several caucuses.
Up next for the Democrats are the caucuses in Wyoming on Saturday and the Mississippi primary next Tuesday, two states where Obama has a big lead. But Pennsylvania, a state that doesn’t vote until April 22, is the big prize, and Clinton is thought to have an advantage there. As the battle for delegates continues, there’s likely to be a big push from the Clinton camp to persuade the Democratic Party that delegates from Florida and Michigan should count.
Although McCain won decisive victories yesterday, voters who described themselves as “very conservative” supported Huckabee in large numbers, and at least 40 percent of Republicans said the senator from Arizona isn’t conservative enough. Regardless, seven in 10 Republicans said they’d be satisfied with McCain as their nominee. Meanwhile, the NYT points out inside that Republicans will now focus on who McCain will choose as his running mate, a particularly important decision considering that he would be the oldest candidate ever elected to a first term.