- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 10, 2008

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama yesterday took a big step in chipping away at Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s slim lead in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination by easily winning state contests in Washington, Nebraska and Louisiana.

The sweep means Mr. Obama has mostly wiped out Mrs. Clinton’s lead in the race for delegates and possibly passed her. The victories also give him momentum for Tuesday’s contests in the District, Maryland and Virginia.

“Today the voters from the West Coast to the Gulf Coast, from the heart of America, stood up to say, ‘yes we can,’ ” Mr. Obama said last night at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. “We won north, we won south, we won in between, and I believe that we can win Virginia on Tuesday.”

Also yesterday, in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, voters refused to rally behind presumptive nominee Sen. John McCain, giving at least one victory to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

On the Democratic side, heading into yesterday’s contests, the Associated Press delegate count gave Mrs. Clinton a lead of just 57 delegates (1,055 to 998), with 158 delegates up for grabs last night.

Mr. Obama was winning 68 percent support in Nebraska, compared with 32 percent for Mrs. Clinton, in caucuses with 24 delegates at stake. He also had 68 percent support in Washington state, compared with 31 percent for Mrs. Clinton with returns tallied from about one-half of the state’s precincts. There were 78 delegates at stake, the largest single prize of the night.

He also captured the Louisiana primary and the majority of the state’s 56 available delegates, winning 53 percent of the vote to Mrs. Clinton’s 39 percent with more than about half the precincts reporting. Delegate apportionment remained unclear or incomplete late last night.

A total of 2,025 is required to win the Democratic nomination at the party convention in Denver this summer.

On the Republican side, Mr. Huckabee cruised to victory in Kansas, winning more than twice the vote as Mr. McCain. The former Arkansas governor also beat Mr. McCain in the Louisiana primary, getting 45 percent of the vote compared with the Arizona senator’s 41 percent.

But since Mr. Huckabee didn’t win by at least 50 percent, Louisiana party rules apportion no pledged delegates directly from last night’s results. The Washington state Republican caucus was too close to call late last night.

Mr. Huckabee began yesterday trailing in the nomination race with 198 delegates to Mr. McCain’s 719. Mr. Huckabee said he is aware there were rumors that he might drop out of the race, but said he has no plans to quit.

“There are only a few states that have voted — 27 have not,” he said. “People in those 27 states deserve more than a coronation. They deserve an election.”

After former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney quit the race Thursday, Mr. Huckabee and Rep. Ron Paul are the only candidates still giving Republican voters an alternative to Mr. McCain, but Mr. McCain has the nomination all but wrapped up.

More than 200 Democratic delegates are at stake Tuesday in the so-called “Potomac primaries” in the District, Maryland and Virginia, which are emerging as important battlegrounds for both Democratic candidates.

Mr. Obama has double-digit leads in several polls conducted in Maryland and Virginia last week and is expected to fare well in the majority-black District.

Today, Mrs. Clinton will campaign in Manassas, Roanoke and Bowie, while Mr. Obama will attend events at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria and in Virginia Beach.

Nationally, with the Democratic race at a near deadlock, the nominee will likely be decided by the party’s almost 800 unpledged delegates, or “superdelegates,” mostly elected officials and party officeholders. Unlike pledged delegates sent to the convention by the nominating contests specifically to support their candidate, superdelegates are free to support whomever they like in Denver.

About half of the superdelegates remain uncommitted, with both campaigns furiously courting the rest.

Both Democratic candidates spent much of yesterday campaigning in Maine, which holds its Democratic caucus today.

Addressing a crowd at the University of Maine in Orono, Mrs. Clinton warned that Democrats will have a difficult time running against the “legendary record” of Mr. McCain, and that she, not Mr. Obama, is best positioned to beat the likely Republican rival.

“When I think about running against Senator McCain, if I’m so fortunate to be the Democratic nominee — you’ll never have to worry about being knocked out of the ring,” Mrs. Clinton said. “I think I can go toe to toe with John McCain every single day.”

She said she considers the Arizona senator a friend, but said a McCain presidency would be tantamount to a third Bush administration.

For his part, Mr. Obama also went after Mr. McCain, criticizing him at a rally in Bangor for voting against President Bush’s major tax cuts and now saying he’d make them permanent. He also derided Mr. McCain’s record as a fiscal conservative, saying, “it was his party” that had pushed “the biggest increase in pork-barrel spending” in history.

Stephen Dinan contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire-service reports. Final results are available at The Washington Times Web site (www. washingtontimes.com).

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