Barack Obama trounced Hillary Clinton in three primary contests last night and now seems unstoppable in his campaign for the Democratic nomination for the White House.
Both he and the expected Republican nominee John McCain won a clean sweep in Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC.
Late last night Mr Obama told a rally of at least 18,000 people in Madison, Wisconsin, where a primary is being held next week: "This movement won't stop until there's change in Washington. Tonight, we're on our way."
The victory pushed Mr Obama into a narrow lead in the all important chase for delegates to win the Democratic nomination for the White House. He could claim 1,186 delegates, including separately chosen party and elected officials known as super-delegates to Mrs Clinton's 1,181. But with a gale force wind now propelling his campaign forward, many of these super-delegates are expected to switch sides rather than run the risk being left behind by the Obama bandwagon.
Mr Obama was declared the winner in Virginia by a whopping margin of 63 percent to 35 percent. He also won comfortably in Maryland and in Washington DC where voters said the economy was the biggest issue for the next president. Mr Obama's victory was all the more impressive because of the high percentage of white voters who supported him – 48 per cent – in this Southern state. Black voters backed him by a majority of 90 per cent. He also won a majority of women voters - 58 per cent to 42 per cent - a category where Mrs Clinton has done well in the past.
On the Republican side Senator John McCain defeated the former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee in Virginia after a fierce struggle. Deeply conservative, evangelical Republicans in the rural west of the state saw Mr Huckabee threaten Mr McCain, the expected Republican nominee with an embarrassing defeat
Expecting a loss, though hardly by such a wide margin Mrs Clinton was far from the nation's capital, campaigning before an enthusiastic crowd in El Paso Texas. "We're going to sweep across Texas in the next three weeks," she told supporters. She would ensure that that future generations of Americans had "the same shot at the American dream" as she did.Mrs Clinton's voice sounded shrill and her message pedestrian, in comparison with the uplifting cathartic speech Mr Obama delivered a few minutes later in Madison. He did not mention Mrs Clinton focusing instead on the need to elect a president who could defeat the policies of 'Bush-McCain republicans.
He delighted his audience by recalling that Wisconsin was the place where '100 years ago the progressive movement was born,' and said the message of his campaign had never changed, in victory or defeat: 'Out of many we are one and our destiny will not be written for us but by us, our time has come.'
The turnout for the 'Potomac Primaries' in Virginia, Maryland and Washington DC was impressive with voters lining up for hours in sub-zero temperatures. In the DC some polling places even ran out of ballot papers. The excitement generated by the contest between the first black candidates and the first woman with a chance of winning the presidency is such that America's once well-deserved reputation as the "United States of Apathy" is becoming rapidly outmoded.
The US traditionally has some of the lowest election turnouts of any democracy, but the numbers of voters in yesterday's "Potomac Primaries" as well as earlier contests have broken records.
In three battlegrounds around Washington DC, Virginia and Maryland, the huge turnout of Democratic voters was a troubling sign for Republicans looking ahead to the general election. Mr Obama has added to his string of victories over Mrs Clinton but he remains far from winning the Democratic nomination, as the candidates are still deadlocked in the hunt for delegates for the nominating convention in late August.
For the Republicans, Mr McCain's three contest sweep ensured that Mr Huckabee did not embarrass him with another defeat. Mr McCain is virtually certain to clinch the nomination, but many conservatives remain uneasy about him.
The Clinton camp had earlier predicted defeat at Mr Obama's hands but down-played the significance. However the scale of her defeat in Virginia Maryland and Washington DC, where there are large areas of well-educated white voters as well as large inner-city black communities, came as a shock to the campaign. Even before the votes were counted Mrs Clinton's deputy campaign manager Mike Henry quit.
Mrs Clinton spent the day campaigning far from Washington in the delegate-rich state of Texas trying to build up a firewall that to stop Mr Obama in his tracks.
Texas does not vote for a month, but Mrs Clinton believes she can tap into the residual sympathy of Latino voters there for her husband Bill. It is not uncommon to see photographs of the former president atop the television set in Hispanic households.
Mr Clinton has been a controversial figure in the campaign and on the eve of yesterday's vote Mrs Clinton went to some lengths to promise there would be no new White House scandals involving her husband. In a question-and-answer session on television, a caller wanted an assurance that "no new business or personal scandal involving Bill Clinton" could erupt giving ammunition to Republicans. "I can assure … that is not going to happen," Mrs Clinton said. "None of us can predict the future … but I am very confident that that will not happen."
Mr Obama earlier played down expectations during a walkabout session in the market district of Washington where he bought Dunkin Doughnuts for his staff "I'm never expected to win," he said. "I don't win until I win. I was expected to win in New Hampshire. We lost. I remember that." Mr Obama swept to victory over the weekend in four races in Louisiana, Maine, Nebraska and Washington state. What he has gained is momentum, along with donations and a surge of media interest.
In the hunt for delegates, Mr Obama had 943 pledged to Mrs Clinton's 895 going into yesterday's race. Both are short of the 2,025 needed to secure the nomination. All told, 168 delegates were at stake last night, to be shared by proportional representation.
By the end of the evening Mr Obama had won 56 of the state's 78 delegates, and Mrs Clinton won 26. That gave Mr Obama 1,186 delegates, including separately chosen party and elected officials known as super-delegates. Clinton had 1,181.
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