Clinton Defeats Obama in Ohio Primary; McCain Clinches Race as Foe Concedes

Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday. More Photos >


Published: March 4, 2008
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton captured the Ohio Democratic primary on Tuesday, snapping Barack Obama’s streak of 12 victories and giving her the chance to extend her campaign beyond the day’s races and possibly to the Pennsylvania contest next month.

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A polling place in Chillicothe, Ohio. More Photos »

But the Democratic rivals remained locked in a tight race in delegate-rich Texas, the other key contest of the night, where some voters participated in an evening caucus, though the results had not been reported by 11:45 p.m. Eastern time. In the primary, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama were virtually tied there with nearly 53 percent of the precincts reporting.

Earlier in the evening, the senators split a pair of New England states, with Mrs. Clinton winning Rhode Island and Mr. Obama taking Vermont by a wide margin.

But the focus on Tuesday was fixed on Ohio and Texas, states that political experts had said were must-wins for Mrs. Clinton to remain a viable candidate, or risk a rapid defection within her party.

Speaking to supporters in Columbus, Ohio, Mrs. Clinton immediately couched her victory as a comeback.

“Ohio has written a new chapter in this campaign and we’re just getting started,” she said. “For everyone who has stumbled but stood right back up, and for everyone who works hard and never gives up, this one is for you.”

Mr. Obama, in San Antonio, said he still considered himself the front-runner.

“No matter what happens tonight, we have nearly the same delegate lead that we had this morning, and we are on our way to winning this nomination,” he said.

The night’s results were more decisive for Senator John McCain, who won enough delegates in Tuesday’s races to clinch the Republican nomination, based on calculations by the television networks and The Associated Press.

Mr. McCain told supporters that he accepted the nomination “with confidence, humility, and a great sense of responsibility,” while his sole remaining opponent, former Gov. Mike Huckabee, conceded the race.

On the Democratic side, Mr. Obama won the Vermont primary by about 22 percentage points. Mrs. Clinton had a margin of about 17 percentage points in Rhode Island.

Mr. Obama had been hoping to firm up his front-runner status in the Democratic race, but the victory in Ohio provides a crucial psychological boost for Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, which has struggled to regroup from Mr. Obama’s recent spate of victories.

Still, the race remains too close to call in Texas, where the rivals were virtually tied. Some of the pledged delegates will be awarded for winning the popular vote in the primary, though the caucus will award its own slate of delegates irrespective of the results of the primary’s popular vote.

Early exit polls showed that Democratic voters in Ohio and Texas were more concerned about the weakening economy than any other issue. Mr. Obama was considered more inspiring and more likely to win in November, but voters in each state were also more likely to say that Mrs. Clinton is more qualified to be commander-in-chief.

Still, broad majorities of Democratic voters in both states said they would be satisfied with either candidate as the nominee.

Voting officials in all four states marveled at the Democratic turnout. “Best I can tell it’s a tsunami of voters,” said Gerry Birnberg, chairman of the Harris County Democratic Party, which encompasses Houston and its environs. At some polling sites there, as many as 100 voters lined up before the polls opened at 7 a.m., Mr. Birnberg said.

An estimated 3.3 million Texans, a primary record, are expected to cast their ballots by the end of the day, according to state election officials. About 1.2 million Texans in the state’s 15 most populous counties already took part in early voting, four times the previous high set in 2000. The large numbers could slow the reporting of results.

In Ohio on Tuesday evening, the last voters braved a raging storm of snow and sleet to get to Giddings Elementary school right before the polls closed. Still wearing their wool hats and winter coats, they lined up to mark their ballots next to reading tests hanging on the walls.

Donell Ezell, 58, a therapist, made it just 15 minutes before voting closed. “I would have come this morning but I had an early patient and didn’t want to get tied up with the paper ballots,” he said after handing his to the election worker. He didn’t think the storm would deter turnout in this largely black neighborhood on Cleveland’s East Side. “I think that a lot of people went through a lot worse than this weather to vote,” he said. “They didn’t have the chance once, so this snow isn’t going to stop them.”

Reporting was contributed by Ralph Blumenthal and John Broder in Houston, Michael Cooper in San Antonio, Andrew Jacobs and Dan Levin in Cleveland, Michael Powell and Ian Urbina in Washington, Katie Zezima in Boston, Jeff Zeleny in Austin, and Dalia Sussman in New York.Newyork Times