A split decision written across a vast electoral map has locked Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in a protracted struggle for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Obama dared claim a "big victory" Wednesday because he came from so far behind, but the spoils were closely divided and the bragging rights shared.
California was the big prize of the night, and Clinton took it, according to NBC News projections. The state offered 370 delegates, but because of the Democratic nominating rules, Clinton will not win all of them.
Given Obama’s win in his home state of Illinois and his significant haul of delegates in numerous smaller states , the race for the Democratic nomination was a dead heat.
In addition to California, Clinton’s victories included New York , Massachusetts and New Jersey , according to NBC News’ projections from official returns and extensive exit-polling data. She also picked up victories in Arkansas , Oklahoma , Tennessee and Arizona .
Obama bolstered his win in Illinois with victories in Georgia , Alabama , Minnesota , Colorado , Connecticut , Delaware , Utah , Kansas , North Dakota , Idaho and Alaska , NBC News projected. He also won Missouri , it said.
Clinton address her supporters Tuesday night in New York before her victory in California was apparent. “Tonight, we are hearing the voices of people across America,” she said.
Obama sounded similar themes while addressing his supporters in Chicago.
“This campaign for the presidency of the United States of America is different,” Obama said to cheers and chants. “Our time has come. Our movement is real and change is coming to America.”
‘No idea what the delegate count is’
“We don’t have any idea what the delegate count is,” Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said in an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. “This is not going to be decided tonight.”
That was because all of the states were dividing their delegates proportionally, so a candidate who finished second could pick up an impressive haul of delegates.
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Chuck Todd, NBC News’ political director, said that while Clinton was winning more of the big primary states, Obama was picking up significant delegate totals, notably in New York, where he could come away with nearly 40 percent of the total.
Obama was also doing “extremely well” in the states that were holding caucuses, Todd said, particularly Minnesota, North Dakota, Idaho and Colorado.
As a result, Todd said, Clinton could end up with the most votes at the end of the evening, but the delegate count could be nearly even.
“We have a split decision tonight,” Todd said.
Clinton acknowledged that neither she nor Obama would be able to seize control of the Democratic nomination based on Tuesday’s results, congratulating Obama on his victories and saying, “I look forward to continuing our work and our debates.”
Obama does well in South
Georgia and Alabama gave Obama his second and third triumphs in the Deep South. Like his earlier victory in South Carolina, the win in Georgia was built on a wave of black votes.
African-Americans accounted for slightly more than half the ballots cast in Georgia, and he won about 90 percent of them. Clinton won nearly 60 percent of the white votes, a reduced advantage compared to her showing in earlier states.
Nationwide, exit polls of voters in 16 states showed that Obama was collecting the overwhelming majority of support among black voters, while Clinton was gaining the votes of roughly 6 in 10 Hispanics. Clinton won only a slight edge among women and white voters, both groups that she has won handily in earlier contests.
Many voters seemed split and late to make up their minds.
“What should I do? What should I do?” asked an African-American voter who would not give her name in Pleasantville, N.J. “When I came here, I was for Hillary, but for some reason when I walked in, it’s just for Obama.”
Confusion over ballot in California
In California, the problem was not whom to vote for, but whether you would be able to vote, and Obama‘s campaign felt it suffered worse.
Obama’s campaign complained about alleged voting irregularities in San Francisco and Oakland, but Clinton’s forces said he should have prepared his voters better for the complicated ballot.
The problem stems from the possibility that voters who did not want to declare a party affiliation did not receive Democratic ballots. Under the state’s Decline to State rules, unaffiliated voters are allowed to receive and vote using Democratic ballots.
“The Decline to State rule should not be a surprising problem,” a Clinton campaign official told NBC affiliate KNTV of San Francisco on condition of anonymity. “It is the height of cynicism for the Obama campaign to be raising these issues. This is nothing more than a cynical attempt to create confusion and cast doubt.”
The problems may have occurred not only in San Francisco and Oakland, but in Los Angeles and San Diego, as well, according to the Obama campaign.
An official with the Elections Department said she did not believe anybody had been denied his or her right to vote, but Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo called upon state and county officials to look into reports of voter confusion.
Already, the Clinton and Obama campaigns were looking ahead to contests Saturday in Louisiana, Kansas, Nebraska and Washington state and primaries next Tuesday in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. Increasingly, it looked as though the Democrats’ historic race between a woman and a black man would go into early spring, possibly longer.
Clinton’s aides conceded in advance that Obama might even win more Super Tuesday delegates. They also acknowledged that Obama was well positioned to win several of the contests between now and March 4, when Ohio and Texas vote. But they said Tuesday was a big night.
“Everyone knew this race would be tightening,” Jay Carson, a spokesman for the campaign, said in an interview on MSNBC. But “Hillary Clinton’s much closer to the nomination tonight than she was this morning.”
Meanwhile, David Axelrod, a senior strategist for Obama, said the results gave the campaign reason for optimism, noting that the future primary days would involve fewer states, making for a more manageable challenge.
“They’ve got a machine they’ve honed over two decades, and that’s what we’ve been fighting,” Axelrod said in an interview on MSNBC.
“The bigger thing is we’ve got the donor base and the volunteer base to compete in those future states,” he said.
By Alex Johnson of msnbc.com. NBC affiliates KNTV of San Francisco; WMGM of Atlantic City, N.J.; WMGT of Macon, Ga.; and WXIA of Atlanta contributed to this report.