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Obama, Clinton fight to be favorite

No clear favorite as pair divvy up states, delegates

Email|Print| Text size + By Scott Helman and Marcella Bombardieri
Globe Staff / February 6, 2008

CHICAGO — Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton battled deep into last night as their 22-state Super Tuesday showdown drew to a close, with each gaining important wins across the country. Clinton won the biggest prize, California, early today.

In the process, they boosted their delegate tallies and promised to continue their grueling contest for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The two contenders began yesterday essentially tied at two victories each after voting in the first four states. As votes were being counted last night, neither Obama nor Clinton appeared headed for a decisive win nationally.

Obama scored a coup by winning Connecticut, where Clinton had led until a few days ago. He also captured Georgia and Alabama, again beating Clinton handily among black voters, who made up about half of the electorate there. He carried his home state of Illinois, which was expected, along with Delaware, North Dakota, Utah, Minnesota, Idaho, and Kansas.

‘‘The polls are just closing in California, and the votes are still being counted in cities and towns across America, but there is one thing on this February night that we do not need the final results to know,’’ Obama told supporters at a downtown Chicago hotel late last night, as the crowd interrupted him with a chorus of ‘‘Yes we can!’’ ‘‘Our time has come, our movement is real, and change is coming to America.’’

But both sides could point to positives. Clinton held off Obama’s surge in Massachusetts, a key victory that came despite Obama’s support from Governor Deval Patrick and Senators John F. Kerry and Edward M. Kennedy. She also won Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Tennessee, all of which she was expected to carry, her home state of New York, Arizona, and New Jersey.

‘‘You’re ready for a president who brings your voice, your values, and your dreams to your White House,’’ Clinton told supporters in New York, struggling to quiet a raucous crowd. ‘‘Tonight you voted in record numbers — not just to remake history, but to remake America.’’

Democratic voter turnout increased dramatically in Massachusetts, Georgia, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York, among other states. New Jersey went so far as to quadruple its 2004 Democratic turnout, in part the result of moving its primary up from the back end of the schedule in June to center stage on Super Tuesday.

Super Tuesday once seemed to offer the promise of clarity, and observers had thought the front-runners in both parties might be evident by this morning. On the Democratic side, that appeared unlikely last night, since Clinton and Obama divvied up not just states, but the 1,681 delegates at stake in them.

A muddled outcome would intensify the Democratic race in the weeks ahead as the tug-of-war contest moves to Louisiana and Washington, which vote Saturday, and to Maine, Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, which vote over the next week.

Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean told CNN yesterday that he anticipated the Obama-Clinton duel would indeed last for weeks. He insisted that a protracted race would not bruise the party’s candidate in the general election. ‘‘This is a great time in politics right now,’’ he said.

As votes continued to be counted across the nation, Clinton spoke shortly before 11 p.m. to a ballroom of cheering supporters. Strategically seated behind her on the stage were many young people and fans holding handmade signs that said ‘‘Latinos con Hillary’’ ? and ‘‘Madame President.’’

She appeared subdued and spoke for only 10 minutes. She ended her remarks with an inspirational riff that was new to her campaign, playing off words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, ‘‘Give us your tired, your poor.’’

‘‘Give us the child who wants to learn, give us the people in need of work, give us the veterans who need our care,’’ she said. ‘‘We say, give us an economy to rebuild and this war to end. Gives us this nation to heal, this world to lead, this moment to seize. I know we’re ready.’’

Yesterday’s vote was the latest — and the biggest — chapter in a Democratic race that began with a crowded field but gradually became the two-person contest that many in the party had long expected. Late yesterday, both campaigns were furiously trying to spin their anticipated results, raising expectations for their opponent, and lowering expectations for themselves.

Clinton had staked out significant leads in many states that held primaries or caucuses yesterday, but Obama — particularly after his commanding win in the South Carolina primary on Jan. 26 — had continued to creep closer in recent days.

Obama’s campaign manager, David Plouffe, told reporters that they had always viewed yesterday as a ‘‘daunting’’ day, because the sheer number of states made it impossible to do much retail politicking or to create a deep organization — two aspects that have propelled the Illinois senator in past state contests. Plouffe acknowledged that his candidate had gained ground, but said that any outcome where Obama comes close to Clinton would be a ‘‘big victory.’’

Clinton’s campaign — which had long boasted of her dominant position headed toward Super Tuesday — switched gears yesterday and warned that Obama could eke out a delegate victory. ‘‘I don’t think either side will come out with appreciably more delegates,’’ Clinton’s communications director, Howard Wolfson, told reporters.

Exit polling data yesterday offered a few clues about why Clinton and Obama won where they did. In Georgia, for example, Obama captured every income group, every education level, and every age group except 65 and older, and he even beat Clinton by 30 percentage points among women, which has been a strong constituency for her. And he won roughly 40 percent of white voters.

But Clinton beat Obama overwhelmingly among women in Massachusetts and Tennessee. She crushed Obama among white voters in Tennessee, who made up 69 percent of the electorate. Clinton beat Obama among whites, 66 percent to 24 percent.

Clinton’s senior strategist, Mark Penn, told reporters during a conference call last night that late-breaking voters went for Clinton, which he said showed momentum. ‘‘People saw her as having the right experience,’’ he said. ‘‘It is not a choice between experience and change; it is how you can bring change and make change happen.’’

But Plouffe, speaking to reporters late last night, said it was a ‘‘terrific night for our campaign,’’ citing Obama’s early delegate lead, the breadth of his success around the country, and the ground he made up in states where he recently trailed by double digits.

Obama and Clinton each spent yesterday at home — he in Chicago, she in New York. Obama and his wife, Michelle, cast their ballots at an elementary school near their home on Chicago’s South Side, staying nearly half an hour to greet students and teachers, poll workers, and other voters, according to a media pool report. Obama, who also sneaked in a game of basketball with friends and aides at Chicago’s East Bank Club in the afternoon, told reporters after voting that he expected a ‘‘good night,’’ but that he had no idea what the outcome would be.

‘‘Everybody is flying blind on this one,’’ he said. ‘‘Here we’ve got 22 states, and nobody can keep track of it. What we know, though, is that the last couple weeks we’ve seen tremendous excitement.’’

Indeed, Obama has been buoyed in the past week by a surge in polls across the country, gigantic crowds at rallies from Arizona to Delaware, high-profile endorsements from key members of the Kennedy family, and a record fund-raising haul of $32 million in January.

Clinton, her husband, former president Bill Clinton, and their daughter, Chelsea, stopped at their polling place at the Grafflin Elementary School in Chappaqua, N.Y., where the elder Clintons voted. Chelsea Clinton, who had been delivering coffee and doughnuts donuts to poll workers in Connecticut at 5:45 a.m., lives and votes in Manhattan.

‘‘It’s a very humbling and overwhelming experience to cast my vote today,’’ Hillary Clinton said. Bill Clinton put his hand over his heart and said, with his trademark earnestness, ‘‘It was one of the proudest moments of my life,’’ in voting for his wife to become president.

The Clinton campaign yesterday also announced that it had accepted invitations from television networks for four debates over the next month. Debates have generally been one of her strong suits. Obama’s aides said that he would participate in more debates, but that they were not going to let Clinton dictate the schedule. ‘‘We’re going to evaluate the whole schedule, really through March 4, and debates will be part of that,’’ he said.

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