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Clinton wins Mass. in Super Tuesday contests; Obama shows strength across nation

Associated Press | 3/19/2009, 10:09 a.m.

Hillary Rodham Clinton turned back Barack Obama and his high-profile endorsements to win the presidential primary in Massachusetts, while former Gov. Mitt Romney had little trouble defending his home turf against Republican rival John McCain.

The New York senator relied on rank-and-file lawmakers, who cranked up their get-out-the-vote efforts on Super Tuesday to offset Obama’s headline-grabbing endorsements from U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and Gov. Deval Patrick.

Clinton won at home in New York as well as in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri and Arkansas, where she was first lady for more than a decade. Obama won in Georgia, his home state of Illinois, Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota and Utah.

Results for the remaining five Super Tuesday contests on the Democratic side — in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and American Samoa — had not been tabulated as of the Banner’s press time.

After an early series of low-delegate, single-state contests, Super Tuesday was anything but small — its primaries and caucuses were spread across nearly half the country in the most wide-open presidential campaign in memory.

The result was a double-barreled set of races, Obama and Clinton fighting for delegates as well as bragging rights in individual states, Republicans McCain, Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee doing likewise.

Polling place interviews with voters across 16 states suggested subtle shifts in the political landscape.

Overall, Clinton was winning only a slight edge among women and white voters, both groups that she had won handily in earlier contests, according to preliminary results from interviews with voters in 16 states leaving polling places.

Obama was collecting the overwhelming majority of votes cast by blacks. Clinton was gaining the votes of roughly six in 10 Hispanics, and hoped the edge would serve her well as the race turned west to Arizona, New Mexico and California, the biggest prize with 370 delegates.

Georgia was Obama’s second straight Southern triumph, and like an earlier win in South Carolina, it was powered by black votes.

African Americans accounted for slightly more than half the ballots cast in Georgia, and he was gaining about 90 percent of them. Clinton won nearly 60 percent of the white votes, a reduced advantage compared to her showing in earlier states.

Democrats awarded their delegates in rough proportion to the popular vote, and the allocation lagged well behind the counting of ballots. Not so Republicans, who held several winner-take-all contests.

Democrats and Republicans alike said the economy was their most important issue. Democrats said the war in Iraq ranked second and health care third. Republican primary voters said immigration was second most important after the economy, followed by the war in Iraq.

The survey was conducted in 16 states by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International for The Associated Press and television networks.

Democrats Obama and Clinton conceded in advance that neither was likely to emerge from the busiest day in primary history with anything more than a relatively narrow edge in convention delegates.

“Senator Clinton, I think, has to be the prohibitive favorite going in given her name recognition, but we’ve been steadily chipping away,” said Obama, seeking to downplay expectations.

As she voted in Chappaqua, N.Y., Clinton said, “The stakes are huge.”

Her aides conceded in advance that Obama might win more Super Tuesday delegates than the former first lady.

Already, both campaigns were looking ahead to Feb. 9 contests in Louisiana, Nebraska and Washington state and Feb. 12 primaries in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. And increasingly, it looked like the Democrats’ historic race between a woman and a black man would go into early spring, possibly longer.

Democrats had 1,681 Super Tuesday delegates to allocate in primaries in 15 states and caucuses in seven more plus American Samoa.

Clinton led Obama in the delegate chase as the polls opened, 261 to 202, on the strength of so-called superdelegates.

They are members of Congress and other party leaders, not chosen by primary voters or caucus-goers. It takes 2,025 delegates to win the Democratic nomination.

Republicans had 1,023 delegates at stake in 15 primaries, six caucuses and one state convention.

The evening began with McCain holding 102 delegates, to 93 for Romney, 43 for Huckabee and four for U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. It takes 1,191 to win the Republican nomination.

The de facto national primary was the culmination of a relentless campaign that moved into overdrive during Christmas week.

Romney, criticized for treating Massachusetts as a steppingstone while governor, won his home state by finding favor with voters who support him on immigration and the economy, according to preliminary exit poll results conducted for The Associated Press.

“It’s touching to have folks remember us fondly,” Romney said after voting Tuesday afternoon in Belmont.

Romney won 51 percent of the vote, compared to 41 percent for McCain, 4 percent for Huckabee and 3 percent for Paul with 69 percent of the 2,167 precincts reporting.

On the Democratic side, Clinton had 56 percent of the vote to Obama’s 41 percent, with 69 percent of precincts reporting.

Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts’ senior U.S. senator, had summoned memories of his brother, the slain President John F. Kennedy, when he endorsed Obama a week ago, and Patrick — who shared Obama’s message of hope when he mustered grassroots support to win the governor’s race — campaigned hard for his fellow Chicagoan.

But Clinton had the network on the ground to get out the votes, with the support of Senate President Therese Murray, who has suggested Clinton lost key endorsements in part because she’s a woman, and House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, who is often at odds with Patrick.

Obama and Clinton spent an estimated $20 million combined on television advertisements in the Feb. 5 states.

Obama spent $11 million, running ads in 18 of the 22 states with Democratic contests. Clinton ran ads in 17, for a total of $9 million.

Bob Poland, 49, said he chose Clinton based on her experience.

“Obama seems like a nice guy, but I’m just worried he doesn’t have enough experience to be president,” said Poland, a travel agent who also cited Clinton’s stance on health care and economic issues.

Turnout was expected to set a record, as even cold rain and sleet across the state didn’t stop people from voting in the primary in Massachusetts.

The largest primary turnout in Massachusetts was in 1980, when just over 1.3 million people voted. The ballot included Sen. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter on the Democratic side, and Republicans Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

Massachusetts may seem like the ultimate Democratic stronghold, but the single largest group of voters here are independents, who comprise half of the state’s 4 million voters and can cast ballots in either party primary. Registered Democrats account for nearly 37 percent and Republicans make up 12 percent.

Monica Crowley, 40, said she couldn’t vote Democratic because she doesn’t like talk show host Oprah Winfrey, who supports Obama, and she opposed Clinton’s health care plan.

Ultimately, she reasoned that McCain, a staunch supporter of the Iraq war, would actually be most likely to end the conflict because his son, Jimmy, is serving in Iraq.

“I can’t believe after what he’s been through and having [a son] there that he will allow it to continue,” she said of McCain, who won the Massachusetts GOP primary eight years ago.

Associated Press writers Jay Lindsay in Topsfield, Denise Lavoie in Whitman, Melissa Trujillo in Boston, Pat Eaton-Robb in Longmeadow, and Glen Johnson in Belmont contributed to this report.

(Associated Press)