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It's a sweep for McCain and Obama

The Democrat moves in front of Clinton with wins in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia. She shakes up staff again.

February 13, 2008|Mark Z. Barabak and Michael Finnegan | Times Staff Writers

FALLS CHURCH, VA. — Barack Obama piled up three more commanding wins Tuesday -- in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia -- establishing the onetime underdog as the front-runner in the Democratic presidential race against Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Obama stacked his victories on top of several wins over the weekend, pushing his record to 8-0 since he and Clinton in effect fought to a draw last week on Super Tuesday. Significantly, the Illinois senator also pulled ahead of Clinton in delegates to the party's national nominating convention, according to a tally kept by the Associated Press.

Combined, Obama's performance put a strong breeze at his back and increased pressure on Clinton, who faced new campaign turmoil Tuesday, to reverse her fortunes when six more states pick delegates over the next three weeks.

On the Republican side, Sen. John McCain of Arizona moved closer to clinching the nomination, winning all three contests over former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.

But McCain struggled in Virginia, where a heavy turnout of evangelical Christian voters helped buoy Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister. The former governor also overwhelmingly won Virginians who identified themselves as conservatives, pointing to continued resistance toward McCain among many of the GOP's base voters.

Obama's victories marked the first time in six weeks of balloting that either Democratic candidate has strung together so many successive wins. For a time, they traded triumphs every week or so. But Obama started to broaden his support in the last few rounds; he continued to make inroads Tuesday.

He carried Latinos in Virginia and women and lower-income voters in Virginia and Maryland; all have been vital constituencies for Clinton. At the same time, Obama continued to show tremendous strength among African Americans as he bids to become the nation's first black president; on Tuesday, he won nearly 9 in 10 black votes in Maryland and Virginia, according to exit polls conducted for a consortium of news organizations.

Obama easily bested Clinton in both states among Democrats most concerned about the economy and the war in Iraq. Clinton edged Obama among those most concerned about healthcare.

"Every week that goes by, people get a little more comfortable with him, and he gets a little stronger," said Paul Maslin, a Democratic pollster not aligned in the race. But, he cautioned, "this thing is not over."

Indeed, many Democrats confessed to a hard time deciding between the two.

"I almost didn't vote at all because if you're perfectly even, how do you choose?" said Marc Shapiro, 39, an international development consultant in Falls Church, Va., an upscale suburb of Washington. He wound up casting his ballot for Clinton.

"I went with the issue of who's ready to serve from Day One," said Shapiro, picking up on a favorite Clinton talking point.

Steve Selby, 56, a public policy professor at Michigan State University's Washington semester program, voted at the same Falls Church apartment complex. He praised Clinton as a "very strong candidate" he could happily support in November. But he backed Obama out of "a sense of change, sense of hope."

"I find the excitement among young people very encouraging," Selby said. "I think he's generated some genuine excitement that I haven't seen since I was a kid."

For the first time, Obama pulled ahead of Clinton in the delegate count, 1,223 to 1,198, according to the Associated Press. It takes 2,025 delegates to win the nomination at the party's national convention in August.

Despite the closeness of the delegate count, Obama has seized a decided edge over Clinton in momentum. He drew huge crowds over the last several days and flexed his financial muscle by handily outspending Clinton on TV advertising in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. Over the weekend, he racked up five victories -- in Louisiana, Nebraska, Washington state, Maine and the Virgin Islands -- by crushing margins.

Clinton, by contrast, has weathered one of the roughest patches of her campaign. The day after Super Tuesday, she revealed she was forced to lend her campaign $5 million because of a cash squeeze. (Online fundraising immediately picked up, the campaign reported.)

Days later, Clinton jettisoned her friend and campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, in a long-anticipated shake-up that came amid increased grumbling from supporters concerned about the trajectory of the former front-runner's campaign. On Tuesday, in a sign of continued upheaval, Clinton's deputy campaign manager, Mike Henry, stepped aside "out of respect" for Doyle's replacement, Maggie Williams.

Perhaps more significant, after being shut out since Feb. 5, the Clinton campaign is bracing for more losses Tuesday in Hawaii, where Obama was born and spent part of his childhood, and Wisconsin, a state with a history of embracing government reform candidates like Obama.

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