For months, Democratic hopeful Barack Obama has addressed adoring audiences while speaking of hopes and dreams. But even he couldn't have dreamt of anything quite like this.
The candidate-turned-juggernaut extended his winning streak to 10 states Tuesday, besting Senator Hillary Clinton to take both the Wisconsin primary and the Hawaii caucus. With 99 percent of Wisconsin's precincts reporting, Senator Obama won 58 percent of the vote to Clinton's 41 percent. In Hawaii, with all precincts reporting, Obama won 76 percent to 24 percent for Clinton. The wins not only pad the Illinois senator's delegate lead (1,301 to 1,239), but also maintain his momentum as the last two Democrats standing look to the critical states of Ohio and Texas on March 4.
"Houston, I think we've achieved lift-off," Obama said to a cheering Texas crowd, simultaneously addressing his Wisconsin victory and the voters who've already begun filling out preliminary ballots in the Lone Star State. "We just heard we've won in Wisconsin, and I am grateful to the people of Wisconsin for their friendship, support and extraordinary civic pride. When you go to vote in Wisconsin, it's 5 degrees outside!"
In the meantime, all-but-certain Republican nominee John McCain continued to swat away the horsefly that is Mike Huckabee, overtaking him in Wisconsin, as well as Washington State. The Arizona senator came away with 55 percent of the vote in the Badger State. The former Arkansas governor, however, did keep things interesting, as he has in recent weeks, in what is largely believed to be a protest vote of McCain's imminent coronation.
"Thank you, Wisconsin," McCain said onstage in Columbus, Ohio, during his victory speech. Then, getting in a preliminary swipe at a Democratic opponent nearly 30 years his junior, he added: "Will the next president have the judgment, experience in forums and the strength of purpose to respond to [threats] in ways that strengthen our security and advance the global progress of our ideals? Or will we risk the confused leadership of an inexperienced candidate?"
McCain's comments toward what he deemed Obama's "eloquent but empty" campaign were seen by many as a Republican acknowledgment that the GOP was already targeting him as the eventual opponent. The cable news networks seemed to agree: Many cut away from Clinton's rally in Youngstown, Ohio, to broadcast Obama's remarks in Texas.
The big story of the evening, naturally, continued to be the toe-to-toe Democratic slugfest, which remains close at a time of year when past campaigns have typically turned out the lights and put down the signs. Obama had been expected to win Wisconsin, largely because of significant liberal numbers in Madison. Clinton had recently beefed up her efforts there in hopes to break her opponent's streak, braving wintry weather yesterday in De Pere, Wausau and Madison.
"It is about picking a president who relies not just on words, but on hard work," Clinton said during her concession speech in Youngstown. "We can't just have speeches; we have to have solutions."
Obama has now won 10 straight contests since he and Clinton essentially split February 5's contested states at 11 apiece. In recent weeks, the former first lady has suggested that Ohio and Texas are mandatory wins for her campaign, as the two states have nearly 400 delegates up for grabs. If she were to win one of the two states, then April 22's Pennsylvania contest could decide the eventual Democratic nominee.
Ohio and Pennsylvania are largely blue-collar states and were believed to be firm Clinton ground. But in recent weeks Obama has begun to close the gap in areas that were once the New York senator's stronghold. In Wisconsin, for instance, Obama split the support of white women and, according to exit polls Tuesday night, the Illinois senator fared better than before with working-class voters.
This all but sets up yet another showdown for Obama and Clinton on March 4 as neither candidate as been able to put the other away. Vermont and Rhode Island also hold primaries on the same day as Ohio and Texas.
Washington state also held a presidential primary Tuesday, but because of a non-sanctioned date change, both parties will likely dole out delegates based solely on the state's February 9 caucuses, which were won by McCain and Obama.
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