Barack Obama racked up another victory Tuesday night, defeating Hillary Clinton by a wide margin in the Wisconsin Democratic primary while also proving he can win big in a primary-style election in a state with a small minority population.
Meanwhile, John McCain won both the Wisconsin and Washington Republican presidential primaries, besting longshot rival Mike Huckabee. Democrats were awaiting results in the Hawaii Democratic caucuses. Washington also held a Democratic primary, but it was a beauty contest only, awarding no delegates.
Speaking in Texas, where he had already traveled to get a jump on the March 4 race there, Obama briefly mentioned the Wisconsin victory in a 45-minute speech that was raucously received by the estimated 20,000-strong crowd.
"We just heard we won tonight in Wisconsin," Obama said to catcalls and applause. " I am grateful to the people of Wisconsin for their friendship, and their support, and their extraordinary civic pride. You know, in Wisconsin when you go to vote it's five degrees outside. But that has not deterred people from Milwaukee to Green Bay to Eau Claire, all across that state, from casting their ballot and exercising their civic duty."
Wisconsin offers 74 convention delegates and Hawaii awards 20. It takes 2,025 to win. As tallying continued through the night, Obama was at 1,316 compared to Clinton at 1,241.
FOX News exit polls showed Obama continued to gain ground among groups that normally favor Clinton. Among women, a demographic group that normally favors Clinton, Obama lost by just 3 points, 51 to 48 percent. While women made up the majority of voters, she lost too badly with the men for this margin to make the difference. Obama won 66 to 32 percent among men, a stronger showing than he normally gets.
Clinton also won among seniors, but young voters made up the vast majority of votes on Tuesday night. Obama won them, 59 percent to Clinton's 39 percent.
Obama won with voters who make more than $50,000 a year, which is usual for him, but until Tuesday, he wasn't winning among those making less than $50,000. He got 53 percent of that group compared to Clinton's 46 percent.
Voters who want change also went overwhelmingly for Obama, 75 percent to Clinton's 23 percent. He beat Clinton by 11 points among those who said the economy is the most important issue facing the country, and he won among voters who said their top issues were either the war in Iraq or health care.
While Obama has counted on large black minorities to help him with previous victories, the Wisconsin population is only 6 percent black. Fifty-two percent of white voters said they chose him as their candidate.
Results in leading counties in Wisconsin could offer some insight into the Ohio and Texas contests on March 4, said political analyst Michael Barone, author of the Almanac of American Politics and a FOX News contributor.
Clinton had hoped to carry Brown County, the heavily Catholic and ethnically diverse home to the Green Bay Packers. But Obama was winning that county by more than 10 points. In Milwaukee County, the biggest county in the state, Obama was winning with 64 percent of the vote.
In Dane County, home to Madison, the state capital, and the University of Wisconsin, Obama was leading nearly 2 to 1 over Clinton.
That is "relevant to Ohio, where you've got a big university community of Franklin County, Ohio State, relevant in Texas, Travis County, Austin, the University of Texas, a big left-wing vote there," Barone said.
He also noted that rural counties in the north and west portions of the state, where Clinton was strongest, also did not provide her the margin of victory that would have helped her reduce the widening gap.
The Wisconsin primary is a contest Clinton’s camp has downplayed from the outset, but polls showed the New York senator was at least competitive in the state. The close polling led to some of the sharpest Democratic exchanges in the primary campaign season so far. However, Clinton called Obama around 10:45 p.m. ET to offer her congratulations.
Without acknowledging the Wisconsin defeat, Clinton held an election night rally in Youngstown, Ohio, where she cast the election as an opportunity to address the struggles of working class families and said she represents the choice of experience.
"This is the choice we face, one of us is ready to be a commander in chief in a dangerous world," she said. "I am ready to end this war in Iraq, end this era of cowboy diplomacy. I will restore our leadership and moral authority in the world, without delay, without on-the-job training, from day one."
Obama's campaign responded that the Illinois senator agrees that the race is about choice.
"The choice in this election is between more of the same divisive, say-or-do-anything-to-win politics of the past and real change that we can believe in. That’s the change that Barack Obama offers, and that’s why more and more voters across America are choosing him as our next president,” said Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton.
But all the candidates appear to be moving toward the general election in their language.
Speaking in Parma, Ohio, earlier in the day, Clinton argued that she’s the best candidate to go up against McCain in November.
"I’ve been through the Republican attack machine. You know I can take a punch," she said. "This is going to be another brutal election. They’re not going to give up without a fight, (they’re) going to make it about national security. We need to nominate someone who can credibly, forcefully take them on on national security. I believe I’m better equipped to do that."
Obama too addressed McCain, saying he is a hero for his service in the Vietnam War, but represents the past.
"When he embraces George Bush's failed economic policies, when he says that he is willing to send our troops into another 100 years of war in Iraq, then he represents the policies of yesterday. And we want to be the party of tomorrow. And I'm looking forward to having that debate with John McCain," he said.
"Now comes the hard part and for America, the bigger decision, will we make the right changes to restore people's trust in their government and meet the great challenges of our time with wisdom, and with faith in the values and ability of Americans for whom no challenge is greater than their resolve, courage or patriotism? Will we do that or will we heed appeals for change that ignore the lessons of history and lack confidence in the intelligence and ideals of free people? I will fight every moment and every day of this campaign to make sure that Americans are not deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change," he said to applause.
With a win in Wisconsin and Washington, McCain now closer to clinching the Republican presidential nomination. The Arizona senator had 939 delegates as the vote tally continued Tuesday. Wisconsin offered 37 delegates total and the GOP primary in Washington state, where half the convention delegates were being chosen, was awarding 19.
"Thank you, Wisconsin, for bringing us to the point where even a superstitious Navy aviator can claim with confidence and humility that I will be our party's nominee for president of the United States," McCain said at an election night rally in Columbus, Ohio.
Huckabee, who says he’s in the race until somebody hits the 1,191 delegates needed to seal the nomination, had 245 delegates before the Tuesday tally while Texas Rep. Ron Paul had 14.
FOX News exit polls showed seven out of 10 voters in the GOP primary in Wisconsin called themselves Republicans, and they went strongly for McCain, 53 percent to Huckabee's 39 percent. McCain also dominated among veterans, who made up 29 percent of GOP voters on Tuesday. They chose McCain 51 percent compared to 33 percent for Huckabee.
The Arizona senator is still struggling with conservative voters. Among voters who call themselves "very conservative," just 9 percent of the GOP turnout, 50 percent went for Huckabee and 40 percent went for McCain. Voters who call themselves “conservative” broke evenly at 45 percent for each candidate.
But with recent endorsements from former President George H.W. Bush and former rival Mitt Romney, McCain has moved closer to being able to rally conservatives and lock down the nomination.
For Wisconsin voters, electability was an important factor in their decision. Most of them -- 82 percent -- said McCain is the guy who can beat the Democratic nominee in November.
McCain also win among all issue groups, including economy voters and Iraq voters. He even won among talk radio listeners. Overall three out of four voters said they would be satisfied if McCain wins the GOP nomination. In fact, two-thirds of Huckabee voters said they would be happy with McCain as their nominee.
For Democrats, Wisconsin and Hawaii were stepping stones, but vital ones. After Super Tuesday’s 22 contests two weeks ago ended in a de facto draw, Obama had racked up eight consecutive victories, notching the latest in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia last Tuesday. Hawaii's victory would give him 10 straight wins.
In Hawaii, the contest was also expected to draw record turnout. Clinton sent daughter Chelsea to stump there over the weekend, and Obama’s half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, made daily appearances for his campaign.
An Obama victory would be bad news for Clinton, who wants to jump start her campaign in the March 4 primaries, when delegate-rich Ohio and Texas vote alongside Rhode Island and Vermont.