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Obama bests Clinton in three states

Senator Barack Obama won decisive victories over Senator Hillary Clinton in Washington, Louisiana and Nebraska on Saturday, giving him an impressive sweep going into a month when the Democratic nominating contests are expected to favor him.
Obama 2008
Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., speaks at the Virginia Democratic Party Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner Saturday, Feb. 9, 2008, in Richmond, Va.Rick Bowmer / AP
/ Source: The New York Times

Senator Barack Obama won decisive victories over Senator Hillary Clinton in Washington, Louisiana and Nebraska on Saturday, giving him an impressive sweep going into a month when the Democratic nominating contests are expected to favor him.

The successes come just as Mr. Obama is building a strong advantage over Mrs. Clinton in raising money, providing important fuel for the nominating contests ahead. Still, the results were expected to do little to settle the muddle in the delegate race that resulted after the wave of contests last Tuesday in which the two candidates split up states from coast to coast.

In Republican contests on Saturday, Mike Huckabee won in caucuses in Kansas and, by the barest of margins, in the Louisiana primary, an embarrassing setback for Senator John McCain as he tries to rally the party around him as the nominee. However, in Washington, the state party declared Mr. McCain the winner of its caucuses Saturday night, after a close race with Mr. Huckabee.

While Mr. Obama had been expected to win the contests on Saturday, the margin of victories were surprising, particularly in Nebraska and Washington, which offered the day’s biggest trove of delegates. In both states, he captured 68 percent of the vote in caucuses, compared with Mrs. Clinton’s roughly 32 percent.

“We won in Louisiana, we won in Nebraska, we won in Washington state,” Mr. Obama said at the Virginia Democrats’ Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Richmond, Va. “We won North, we won South, we won in between. And I believe that we can win in Virginia on Tuesday if you’re ready to stand for change.”

While Mr. Obama’s victories were significant, the Democratic Party awards delegates proportionally, so Mrs. Clinton stands to walk away from the contests with a sizable number. Both campaigns have dug in for a long and fierce delegate fight.

The nominating fight now turns to Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, which hold their primaries on Tuesday. Mr. Obama is considered well positioned in those states.

With the fight for the nomination extending beyond the 22 contests last Tuesday, voters in a fresh batch of states have suddenly found themselves in the thick of the most competitive primary in a generation. In past years they tended to cast their votes well after the nominee was effectively chosen.

On Saturday, with the contest so close, excitement ran high, as did turnout.

In Nebraska, The Omaha World-Herald reported that organizers at two caucus sites had been so overrun by crowds that they abandoned traditional caucusing and asked voters to drop makeshift scrap-paper ballots into a box instead. In Sarpy County, in suburban Omaha, traffic backed up on Highway 370 when thousands of voters showed up at a precinct where organizers had planned for hundreds.

In Washington, the Democratic party reported record-breaking numbers of caucusgoers, with early totals suggesting turnout would be nearly be nearly double what it was in 2004 — itself a record year — when 100,000 Democrats caucused.

Mrs. Clinton’s advisers had predicted she might not win any of the contests in February, and said she was looking ahead to March 4, when voters in Rhode Island and particularly Ohio and Texas will decide the next big bloc of delegates.

But Maine, which holds its caucuses Sunday, may favor Mrs. Clinton, though there have been no polls. A win there could help blunt the edge of what are expected to be a string of victories for Mr. Obama in the 10 contests between last Tuesday and March 4.

Mrs. Clinton said nothing about the day’s results as she spoke to a cheering crowd at the Jefferson-Jackson day dinner shortly after Mr. Obama was named the winner of the Nebraska and Washington caucuses.

Her campaign argued that Mr. Obama had greatly outspent her on television advertisements in all three states.

“Although the next several states that hold nominating contests this month are more favorable to the Obama campaign, we will continue to compete in them and hope to secure as many delegates as we can before the race turns to Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania,” said a spokesman, Phil Singer.

The results on the Republican side provided some surprise, particularly since Mr. Huckabee’s showings in Kansas and Louisiana came as Mr. McCain seemed headed to the nomination.

Mr. Huckabee declared that the voters had been heard from. “They spoke with one voice,” he said. “They said I am the authentic conservative in this race.”

The McCain campaign played down Mr. Huckabee’s victories, saying they had been expected.

“John McCain is the presumptive nominee in this race and our path forward is unchanged by today’s results,” a spokeswoman, Jill Hazelbaker, said. “Our focus remains the same: uniting the Republican Party to defeat Democrats in 2008.”

Even before any results were in Saturday, despite the daunting number of delegates Mr. McCain has amassed, Mr. Huckabee told reporters he was not pulling out of the race. Mr. Huckabee, a pastor before he became governor of Arkansas, said: “I didn’t major in math. I majored in miracles, and I still believe in them, too.”

Later, after the results from Kansas were in, he said Republican leaders “ought to be begging me” to stay in.

“It’s an awfully weak party that can’t handle competition,” he said. “Competition breeds excellence.”

Mr. Huckabee compared himself to Ronald Reagan when he challenged President Gerald R. Ford for the 1976 nomination. “He was the pariah of the party,” he said. “Now people love Ronald Reagan.”

In the Republican contest in Kansas, Mr. Huckabee won 60 percent of the vote, Mr. McCain 24 percent and Representative Ron Paul of Texas 11 percent. The Democrats held their caucuses in Kansas last Tuesday, with Mr. Obama the winner.

Mr. McCain is far enough ahead in the delegate race that his advisers have said it would be all but impossible for anyone else to win the nomination. His other chief competitor, Mitt Romney, bowed to those odds when he suspended his campaign on Thursday.

Early in the day, after addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, Mr. Huckabee said he had no intention of dropping out until one of the Republican candidates had amassed the 1,191 delegates needed to be the nominee. Before Saturday’s voting, Mr. McCain had 703 delegates, Mr. Huckabee, 190, and Mr. Paul, 42.

Asked if he saw any cost to staying in the race, Mr. Huckabee thought for a moment before saying no.

“I have nothing else to do,” he said with a smile.