Get Ready for a Rougher, Fiercer Democratic Race
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Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., won the Republican Party presidential nomination Tuesday, while the contest for the Democratic nomination continued with Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., losing several contests while apparently sustaining his 100-delegate lead over Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. An Obama sweep would have ended his party's contest.
McCain won in all four states voting Tuesday -- Texas, Ohio, Vermont and Rhode Island -- and as a result had 1,195 delegates, according to CNN, four more than were needed to secure the GOP nomination.
"Now, we begin the most important part of our campaign," McCain said, "to make a respectful, determined and convincing case to the American people that our campaign and my election as president, given the alternatives presented by our friends in the other party, are in the best interests of the country we love."
On the Democratic side, the unofficial returns suggested that the winner in Texas would not be known until Wednesday, due to that state's mix of primary voting during the day and party caucuses at night. With 74 percent of precincts reporting, Clinton was leading Obama 50.6 percent to 47.6 percent. Two-thirds of Texas' 193 pledged and 35 unpledged delegates are awarded in primary voting, where Clinton led by 62,000 votes.
The final third are awarded in caucuses, where Obama was said to be better-organized and where the Clinton campaign accused Obama of cheating Tuesday night. In the earliest caucus returns, Obama was ahead 56.2 percent to 43.7 percent.
Clinton's victories were her first in the 12 contests since Super Tuesday in February. Speaking to her supporters in Columbus, Ohio, she pledged to keep campaigning until she wins the nomination.
"As Ohio goes, so goes the nation," Clinton said. "This nation is coming back and so is this campaign. ... The people of Ohio have spoken loudly and clearly. We are going on. We're going strong, and we're going all the way."
Meanwhile, Obama was in San Antonio, Texas, where he said he would be the nominee.
"We are in the middle of a very close race in Texas. We may not even know the final results until morning," Obama said. "We know this; no matter what happens tonight, we have nearly the same number of delegates we had this morning, and we are on our way to winning this nomination."
Obama responded to criticism from both Clinton and McCain.
"We want a new course for this country. We want new leadership in Washington. We want change in America. John McCain and Hillary Clinton have echoed each other in saying this call for change is empty," he said.
"That is the course we seek," he added. "If I am the nominee, I will not allow us to be distracted by the same politics that seeks to divide us with false charges and meaningless labels."
A new phase begins
The March 4 contests mark the end of one phase of the campaign where the candidates have had many contests in quick succession. Now, as Clinton and Obama look ahead to primaries in Wyoming and Mississippi on March 8 and 11, respectively, and to Pennsylvania on April 22, Democratic Party officials will assess if Clinton can win enough delegates to secure the nomination.
In order to do so, Clinton must win by large margins -- 60 percent or more -- in all the remaining states. She went into Tuesday's vote 100 delegates behind Obama. Unlike the GOP's winner-take-all contests, the Democratic Party awards delegates proportionately. Thus, Clinton's rebound on Tuesday may have revived her campaign, but the apparently close finish in Texas will not significantly help her cut Obama's lead. Previously, Bill Clinton said she needed to win both states by large margins to be competitive.
Still, in her remarks to supporters in Columbus and in conference calls by her staffers earlier in the day, Clinton pledged to keep campaigning until she wins.
"If we want a Democratic president, we need a Democratic nominee who can win battleground states like Ohio," Clinton said, citing victories in Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, Michigan, New Hampshire, California, New York, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
Clinton's declarations of victories in Florida and Michigan are controversial. The Democratic National Committee stripped those states of delegates for holding early, unauthorized primaries. Whether those states will seat delegations or hold new contests is a looming fight. While Clinton and Obama pledged not to campaign there last summer, she stayed on the ballot and won both states -- and now wants those delegates to count. Obama was not on the Michigan ballot.
"When Hillary Clinton has a fair chance, with adequate resources, she wins," said Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, speaking before Clinton at her Tuesday victory rally. He was alluding to the fact that Obama outspent Clinton in Ohio and Texas before the Tuesday votes. "Let her continue this fight. ... Let all the people have a chance to vote before we end this contest."
"This is a great night, but these are challenging times," Clinton said. "Voters face a crucial question, who is ready to be commander-in-chief ... and who knows how to turn our economy around. Ohio has written a new chapter in the history of this campaign and we are just getting started."
The campaign continues
While Clinton was positive in her remarks, her staff ratcheted up its attacks on Obama's credentials and credibility in the days before the March 4 vote and again on Tuesday.
At its media conference call early Tuesday, communication director Howard Wolfson said his campaign was taking control of the race for the nomination, both in terms of setting the agenda and framing the issues on the minds of voters.
Wolfson said a victory in Ohio or Texas -- or both -- showed that Clinton had "put together an impressive and diverse list of state" victories. He also said the issues driving voters were who should be commander-in-chief and the "steward" of the economy. "We passed those tests and Sen. Obama has not," he said. "We, as a party, will not nominate a person who has not passed the commander-in-chief and steward-of-the-economy test."
Clinton staffers also urged reporters to aggressively question Obama on topics they said showed that Obama was long on rhetoric but short on action. They said Obama had yet to sufficiently answer questions about whether his campaign's top economic advisor told Canadian officials not to pay attention to his remarks criticizing NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. They suggested that Obama was being hypocritical to criticize NAFTA while talking to Ohio voters, while his staff quietly told Canadian officials to ignore his remarks. Obama's campaign denies mixed messages were sent.
They also criticized Obama for failing to answer questions about Tony Rezko, a longtime political supporter who was now on trial in Chicago for extorting money from companies seeking to do business with state government. When asked if these criticisms would continue in the weeks before the next big primary, Pennsylvania, Wolfson said yes.
"I think there is a role for legitimate contrasts between the candidates," he said. "I believe Sen. Obama's whole campaign is based on his 2002 (anti-Iraq war) speech. Sen. Obama has not shied away from criticizing Sen. Clinton."
Wolfson also said the campaign "has been relatively civil between the candidates," adding, "Sen. Obama can step forth at any time and answer these questions."
In yet another indication the Clinton campaign was determined to keep fighting, it held "an emergency" press conference call as Texas' caucuses were being conducted to say Obama campaign volunteers were, in essence, cheating to win.
Wolfson, state campaign manager Ace Smith and campaign attorney Lyn Utrecht said Obama supporters had "taken control" of a dozen caucuses -- out of thousands across Texas -- and "locked out" Clinton voters. They said Obama volunteers broke party rules by obtaining caucus documents earlier in the day and getting supporters to fill out caucus sign-up sheets, allowing them to fabricate greater turnout numbers -- in essence, padding the caucus count.
The complaints by the Clinton campaign came before the Texas results were announced. They undoubtedly were intended to call into question that state's nomination process.
The Obama campaign responded to the accusations when Bob Bauer, its attorney and one of the Democratic Party's most respected election lawyers, somehow obtained the call-in number and said the Clinton campaign was accusing the Obama campaign of some of the very tactics it had used against Obama supporters in Nevada's caucus.
"How is this (Texas) caucus different from a series of complaints in Nevada," Bauer said, adding the Clinton campaign did not start complaining about the caucus process until it lost a series of those contests. After Nevada's caucus, the Obama campaign filed a complaint with Nevada's Democratic Party, citing a Clinton campaign handbook that told its representatives to lock the doors a half hour early and said to assume its actions were legal until told otherwise.
There is little legal recourse for complaints by the Clinton or Obama campaigns about party caucuses, however. That is because political parties, not the state, run caucuses.
Heather Gehlert contributed to this report.
Steven Rosenfeld is a senior fellow at Alternet.org and co-author of " What Happened in Ohio: A Documentary Record of Theft and Fraud in the 2004 Election ," with Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman (The New Press, 2006).