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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Obama Wins Wisconsin!!!!

Obama, McCain Win in Wisconsin

By Chris Cillizza staff writer

Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) defeated Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) in today's Wisconsin Democratic presidential primary, scoring a ninth consecutive victory over the New York senator.

Obama was also expected to win caucuses in Hawaii, the state in which he spent more than a decade of his youth. The Obama victory puts more pressure on Clinton, who now must win in Ohio and Texas on March 4 to sustain her campaign for the presidential nomination.

On the Republican side, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) defeated former governor Mike Huckabee (Ark.) in the Wisconsin presidential primary. McCain's convincing victory is likely to increase the pressure on Huckabee to drop from the race and clear the way for the Arizona senator to unify the party and begin preparing for an extended general election campaign.

"I will be our party's nominee for president of the United States," McCain declared at a victory speech in Columbus, Ohio, shortly after 9 p.m. Eastern time. He also took time to praise Huckabee for his "impressive grit and passion."

McCain then quickly shifted to the general election and drew a biting contrast between himself and Obama. He promised to deliver far more than just an "eloquent but empty call for change" and the "confused leadership of an inexperienced candidate."

Huckabee has vowed to remain in the race until McCain surpasses the delegate threshold of 1,191 needed to secure the GOP presidential nomination.

Obama entered Wisconsin on a roll, and given the large number of liberal Democratic voters centered in Madison, was expected to win. But in recent days, Clinton has invested more campaign time and money in the state-- perhaps sensing a chance to break Obama's eight-state winning streak or exceed the modest expectations for her in advance of critical tests in Ohio and Texas on March 4.

With a small fraction of the precincts reporting in Wisconsin, Obama led Clinton, 56 percent to 43 percent, while McCain led Huckabee, 56 percdent to 36 percent.

Early exit polling suggested that the concerns and desires of the electorate in Wisconsin bear significant similarities to those in other states that have voted over the past month.

A slim majority of Democratic voters cited a candidate's desire to bring about change as the most important attribute in deciding who to support. And, the economy again trumped health care and the war in Iraq as the most pressing issue on the minds of Democratic voters.

Among Republicans in Wisconsin, the economy, too, was the leading issue. And, as was the case in other recent votes, a near-majority of those who participated in the Wisconsin GOP primary said a candidates who shared their values was the most important characteristic in making a pick.

Democrats in Hawaii as well as Republicans in Washington State are also holding votes today -- although neither the Hawaiian caucuses or the Washington primary is expected to be seriously contested. Obama is expected to romp to victory in Hawaii, where he spent his formative years. The GOP race in Washington state is likely to be very close.

Wisconsin has seen a heated campaign of late with all four major candidates vigorously campaigning in the state.

McCain and Huckabee made stops in Appleton on Monday while Clinton ventured to De Pere, Wausau and Madison, while Obama stopped in Beloit. All four candidates dodged frigid temperatures and wintry weather over the President's Day holiday in search of ever-precious votes.

The ramped-up rhetoric has been especially noticeable on the Democratic side, where Clinton and Obama have exchanged blows on television for much of the last week.

Clinton started the fracas by attacking Obama for his refusal to debate in the state; the New York Senator then upped the ante by hitting Obama on his alleged lack of solutions on health care and Social Security. Obama struck back with ads of his own that decried Clinton's negative tactics as nothing more politics as usual. And Clinton yesterday accused Obama of plagiarizing portions of a recent speech and continued to question his vows to reform the campaign finance system.

Neither side backed down in the final moments of the campaign. David Plouffe, campaign manager for Obama, castigated Clinton for a "harshly negative campaign" and promised that the Illinois senator would evaluate each attack and decide on a case-by-case basis how to proceed.

Clinton was set to deliver a speech tonight in Youngstown, Ohio -- excerpts of which her campaign released even before polls closed in Wisconsin.

"Both Senator Obama and I would make history," Clinton is set to say, according to the excerpts. "But only one of us is ready on day one to be commander-in-chief, ready to manage our economy, and ready to defeat the Republicans. Only one of us has spent 35 years being a doer, a fighter and a champion for those who need a voice. That is what I would bring to the White House. That is the choice in this election."

Those words suggest that Clinton will continue to aggressively make sharp contrasts between herself and Obama in the two weeks between tonight's vote and March 4.

Even as the negative rhetoric soared between Clinton and Obama, polling in the race suggests a more competitive contest than recent races in places like Virginia and Maine.

A recent independent poll conducted for WISC-TV last week showed Obama holding a fairly narrow lead over Clinton, 47 percent to 42 percent, while surveys in the state over the last two weeks have provided a mixed bag, ranging from a wider Obama lead to a narrow Clinton edge.

The reason for the disparity between polls is likely due to the unpredictability of turnout in today's primary. As is so often the case in the Midwest during the winter months, the weather is the story. The temperature in Madison was seven degrees Fahrenheit (negative seven with the wind chill) and a wind chill alert had been issued by the National Weather Service.

In the 2004 Wisconsin Democratic presidential primary, which was held on Feb. 17, 826,250 people cast votes, with Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) winning a narrow 40 percent to 34 percent victory over former senator John Edwards (N.C.).

Obama has won eight straight contests since the two candidates essentially split the 22 state contests on Feb. 5. That winning streak has given Obama a lead in the pledged delegate count and a boost of momentum heading into the crucial March 4 votes when Texas and Ohio are set to hold primaries.

Clinton has suggested that Ohio and Texas are must wins for her campaign and a stronger than expected showing in Wisconsin tonight could give her a big boost heading into those races. An Obama blowout in Wisconsin, however, coupled with his expected win in Hawaii later tonight would make it ten consecutive victories and add to the Illinois senator's delegate edge.

At stake tonight in Wisconsin are 74 pledged delegates for Democrats. Hawaii will allocate 20 delegates in its caucus. Obama currently has 1,112 pledged delegates and another 164 superdelegates for a total of 1,276, according to the Associated Press. Clinton has 979 pledged delegates and 241 superdelegates, a total of 1,220.
The Republican race in Wisconsin has been somewhat quieter. Polling shows McCain with a comfortable but not substantial lead over Huckabee.

Although both candidates have spent time and resources in the Badger State, the last real fight on the Republican side appears to be in Texas, where polling shows McCain with a slight edge over Huckabee. Wisconsin will allocate 40 delegates in the primary. The primary contest in Washington State -- which follows on a caucus in the state earlier this month -- will yield 19 delegates.

It's not clear how long Huckabee will remain in the race or whether tonight's results will have any impact on his decision. Heading into the Wisconsin vote, McCain had 851 delegates to 242 for Huckabee. Former governor Mitt Romney (Mass.), who dropped out of the contest earlier this month, retained 277 delegates.

When asked about the mathematical impossibility of beating McCain, behind whom the entire party establishment has largely coalesced, Huckabee is prone to answer: "I didn't major in math. I majored in miracles, and I still believe in them."

Research Editor Alice R. Crites, Polling Director Jon Cohen and Polling Analyst Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report

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