Obama wins in 2 more states

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -- Barack Obama handily won two more states yesterday as he and Hillary Clinton shifted their focus to Tuesday's Mid-Atlantic primary.

Obama said he was hoping for victories that would give him momentum heading into Tuesday's contests in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. He got them in the Nebraska and Washington caucuses - by 2-1 margins - and was leading in the Louisiana primary, based on partial returns.

In Republican contests, Mike Huckabee swamped John McCain in the Kansas caucuses with support from social conservatives. The Louisiana primary was too close to call, based on early returns.

"Clearly, I am pleased by these results, but it is onward and upward to Virginia and Maryland as we head into the Potomac primaries on Tuesday," Huckabee said in a statement.

Last night, the Democratic contenders addressed a party fundraising dinner in Richmond, Va., and prepared for campaign stops in Maryland today and tomorrow.

Clinton focused her remarks largely on John McCain, the likely Republican nominee, and said Democrats don't need to worry that she'll be "knocked out" of the ring, if she's their candidate.

"I am ready to go toe to toe with Senator McCain whenever and wherever he desires," she said.

Clinton is to hold a rally in Bowie this evening after a daylong swing across Virginia, the state with the largest and most closely contested Feb. 12 primary. Tomorrow morning, she'll attend an event in White Marsh.

Obama scheduled rallies for tomorrow in Baltimore and College Park.

Huckabee, who campaigned yesterday in Maryland, said he won't end his bid unless McCain locks up the nomination. He refused to concede that the race is over and said voters in future primary and caucus states "deserve more than a coronation. They deserve an election."

Republican politicians have concluded that McCain has an insurmountable delegate advantage. But he isn't likely to win enough to lock up the nomination until next month at the earliest.

Maine holds Democratic caucuses today, and Clinton and Obama delivered last-minute appeals to party activists there before flying to Virginia.

Highlighting the tightness of the Democratic battle, the latest Associated Press tally of 1,681 delegates from last Tuesday's primaries showed a near split. Obama inched ahead, gaining a two-delegate lead, with 91 delegates to be determined.

Overall, Clinton had a 57-delegate advantage before yesterday's contests, thanks to an edge in support from party and elected officials who are automatic delegates to the convention. Obama has won more delegates in primaries and caucuses, and has been slowly erasing her lead.

That advantage is expected to shrink even more over the next few days and could even be reversed Tuesday if Obama sweeps the Potomac primaries. He's favored in all three, with Virginia expected to be the most closely competitive.

Maryland, with a large African-American population and concentrations of affluent liberals and college students, plays to strengths he has shown in other states.

Clinton is helped by party rules that allow only registered Democrats to vote, negating Obama's edge among independents. She is also drawing heavy primary support from women and working-class whites.

Polls show Obama with a double-digit lead in Maryland, a sharp reversal from last fall, when Clinton led by almost 20 percentage points.

Obama campaign officials are playing down his chances, hoping to keep expectations in check, pointing out that pre-election polling has been wildly inaccurate this year. Obama was favored to win New Hampshire and lost badly. In California, where at least one well-respected statewide survey showed a statistical tie, he lost by 10 points.

"We are fighting like a race where we're 10 points down, not 10 points ahead," Steve Hildebrand, a senior Obama strategist, said in a conference call.

The itineraries of the candidates and their top surrogates are road maps to their competing strategies and the battlegrounds on Feb. 12, when a larger number of delegates will be awarded to the winning candidate by congressional districts, rather than statewide.

Former President Bill Clinton planned four campaign stops today in Maryland, including services at a black church in Prince George's County, a Democratic club in Dundalk and one of the state's largest retirement communities, in Montgomery County.

Clinton and her husband will be trying to hold down Obama's margins among African-Americans, upscale suburban liberals and college students, while boosting her vote among working-class whites, seniors and older party activists.

Obama's Maryland events are designed to drive up enthusiasm among his core supporters, with arena-style rallies at the University of Maryland campus in College Park and in downtown Baltimore on election eve.

Obama has outspent Clinton on TV advertising ahead of Tuesday's contests. According to one industry estimate, he spent roughly twice as much in the largest market, Washington, D.C., which reaches portions of all three Potomac electorates.

Clinton has lagged behind Obama in fundraising this year, but her campaign announced last night that she had raised $10 million since Super Tuesday, a significant rebound.

Her campaign, in an e-mail to reporters, tried to raise the bar for Obama in the coming contests.

This month's primaries and caucuses "are more favorable to the Obama campaign," said Phil Singer, a Clinton spokesman, but "we will continue to compete in them and hope to secure as many delegates as we can."

Republican primaries on Tuesday are expected to bring McCain closer to the 1,191 delegates he needs to win the nomination. The Arizona senator took the weekend off and was expected to make only a single stop each in Virginia and Maryland

Huckabee campaigned in Maryland yesterday and plans two full days of events in Virginia, which offers him the next chance of surprising McCain.

He acknowledged last night that he is under pressure from leading Republicans to end his campaign. He said that Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a McCain supporter, had phoned and encouraged him to "say it's over."

Huckabee, describing the conversation as "cordial," said that "since he was endorsing my opponent, the recommendation rang a little hollow to me."

Earlier, Huckabee addressed the same conservative conference where Mitt Romney announced his withdrawal from the race. He acknowledged that his chances of stopping McCain are remote but said he wasn't quitting.

"I didn't major in math, but I majored in miracles, and I still believe in them," he said.

Largely unnoticed, but potentially important, was Ron Paul's announcement that he will not run as a third-party candidate in the fall.

The Texas congressman, who was the Libertarian candidate in 1988, has won few delegates but has a devoted following around the country. Republicans worried that if he bolted the party, he might draw enough votes from disaffected conservatives to keep McCain from winning the fall election.

Paul had seemed to leave open the possibility of a third-party run by saying repeatedly that he had no "plan" to do so. However, in a statement on his campaign Web site, he appeared to foreclose that possibility for good, stating flatly that "there will be no third-party run."

He will continue his candidacy all the way to the national convention in September, Paul wrote, but with "Romney gone, the chances of a brokered convention are nearly zero."

Paul faces a primary challenge for his House seat next month. He said he was cutting back his national campaign staff and would devote time to his re-election race, adding that "I am a Republican, and I will remain a Republican."

Candidates in both parties have begun looking ahead to the general election, after McCain effectively sealed his party's nomination.

Clinton told reporters yesterday that she's "drawing from voters a Democrat needs to draw from to establish a strong lead against Senator McCain - voters making less than $50,000, Latino voters, women, which has always been part of the Democratic nominee's base."

paul.west@baltsun.com

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