Obama wins Virginia Democratic primary, Huckabee challenging McCain
WASHINGTON (AP) ” Sen. Barack Obama won the Virginia primary tonight and reached out for victories in nearby Maryland and the District of Columbia, determined to erode or even erase Hillary Rodham Clinton’s delegate lead in the Democratic presidential race.
Obama’s triumph made it six straight over Clinton, the former first lady, now struggling to keep up in a race she once commanded.
The Associated Press made its call based on surveys of voters as they left the polls.
The interviews with voters showed blacks accounted for nearly one-third of the ballots cast in Virginia, and Obama’s share approached 90 percent. He and Clinton split the white vote.
In all, there were 168 delegates at stake in the three Democratic primaries.
Clinton began the night with 1,147 delegates, to 1,124 for Obama. Both are far from the 2,025 needed to win the nomination at the Democratic National Convention this summer.
Republicans John McCain and Mike Huckabee struggled over 116 delegates in the GOP primaries in the so-called Potomac Primary contests.
In Virginia, nearly seven in 10 voters in the Republican primary called themselves conservatives, and Huckabee was gaining half their votes in a strong challenge to the party’s front-runner.
The surveys were conducted by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International for The Associated Press and the television networks. There was no survey conducted in the District of Columbia.
The AP count showed McCain with 729 delegates. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who dropped out of the race last week, had 288. Huckabee had 241 and Texas Rep. Ron Paul had 14.
It takes 1,191 delegates to clinch the Republican nomination, and McCain appears to be on track to reach the target by late April.
The Democratic race was the definition of unsettled, with Clinton on the verge of surrendering her long-held lead in delegates, having shed her campaign manager and loaned her campaign $5 million in recent days, and facing defeats next week in Wisconsin and Hawaii.
She hopes to respond with victories in Texas and Ohio on March 4, states where both candidates have already begun television advertising.
Since last week’s Super Tuesday contests in 22 states, Obama has won a primary in Louisiana as well as caucuses in Nebraska, Washington and Maine, all of them by large margins.
Obama has campaigned before huge crowds in recent days, and far outspent his rival on TV advertising in the states participating in the regional primary in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
He began airing commercials in the region more than a week ago, and spent an estimated $1.4 million. Clinton began hers last Friday, at a cost estimated at $210,000.
With Clinton facing a series of possible defeats, and Obama riding a wave of momentum, the two camps debated which contender is more likely to defeat McCain in the general election.
An Associated Press-Ipsos poll found Obama with a narrow lead over the Arizona senator in a potential match-up, and Clinton running about even.
“We bring in voters who haven’t given Democrats a chance” in the past, said Obama pollster Cornell Belcher, citing support from independents.
Mark Penn, Clinton’s chief strategist, countered that she holds appeal for women voters and Hispanics. “Hillary Clinton has a coalition of voters well-suited to winning the general election,” he said.
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