Obama, McCain win in N.C.
Posted May 6, 2008 5:22 p.m. EDT
Updated May 7, 2008 1:55 a.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — Media projections based on exit polls had Sen. Barack Obama pulling off a win in North Carolina's primary, and his rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton, doing the same in Indiana.
CBS News and the Associated Press called the North Carolina Democratic presidential primary for Obama. He had 56 percent of the vote, and Clinton had 42 percent, with 99 percent of precincts reporting.
"I love you back. I truly do," Obama said to a crowd of 3,000 who cheered on his victory speech at North Carolina State University's Reynolds Coliseum. "Tonight, we stand less than 200 delegates away from winning the Democratic nomination for president of the United States."
Clinton, though, did not seem ready to concede the nomination fight in her victory speech in Indianapolis. Returns from 99 percent of the Indiana precincts showed Clinton with 51 percent of the vote to 49 percent for Obama.
Referring to Obama's description of Indiana's primary as a "tie-breaker, she said, "Tonight, we've come from behind, we've broken the tie, and thanks to you, it's full speed to the White House."
She noted the back-and-forth nature of the protracted fight: "I win, he wins. I win, he wins. It's so close."
Obama won at least 63 delegates and Clinton at least 57 in the two states combined, with 67 still to be awarded.
The Associated Press also called the Republican presidential primary for Sen. John McCain. He already has enough delegates to secure his party's nomination.
Obama called attention to claims by the Clinton campaign that the North Carolina race would be a "game-changer. ... But today, what North Carolina decided is that the only game that needs changing is the one in Washington, DC."
Obama said acknowledged Clinton's victory in Indiana and said there were "bruised feelings on both sides. ... Each side desperately wants their candidate to win."
Still, he said, "This fall, we intend to march forward as one Democratic Party, united by a common vision for this country. ... We can't afford to give John McCain the chance to serve out George Bush's third term," he said.
Students expressed excitement at Obama's primary-night appearance at N.C. State.
"I feel like our community's getting a lot of attention, and I really appreciate that," student Lauren Hilgeres said. "That's just one of the great things about Obama is that he cares about every single person."
"With Barack, he represents not only change, but it's an inspiration more than anything," student Andrew Plyler said. "And my mother even said she hasn't seen a movement like this since Bobby Kennedy, and I feel privileged to be a part of that."
The approximately 40 Clinton supporters gathered at her Raleigh headquarters said the vote tally in North Carolina has not deterred them.
"It's something that Sen. Clinton has proven over and over again, that she's the comeback kid," regional organizer Jason Lindsay said.
Voters speak about their motivations
In interviews at a handful of North Carolina's nearly 3,000 polling places, voters often cited the economy and the war in Iraq as the top issues on their mind.
The Illinois senator was the choice of voters on three critical issues: the economy, war in Iraq and health care. He also led among voters under the age of 65.
Clinton supporters cited her experience as a factor that would make her more electable.
"Hillary, she's the one with the most experience," support Susan Palmer said. "She's the best to go up against McCain in the fall. She has proven herself."
But voters said they believed Obama identified with their struggles. Fifteen percent of voters said caring "about people like me" was the quality that mattered most. Of those, 56 percent said Obama was the candidate who fit that description. And 70 percent of voters said he shares their values.
"I was undecided walking in. I like both candidates. I haven't felt good about a presidential speech in a long time. He speaks in a way no one has in a long time," said Kathy Fields, 26, a kindergarten teacher from Durham who voted for Obama.
The impact of a long-running controversy over Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, was difficult to measure.
Wright has said the U.S. government may have developed the AIDS virus to infect blacks and that the U.S. invited the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Obama has denounced the remarks.
In North Carolina, six in 10 voters who said Wright's incendiary comments affected their votes sided with Clinton, including eight in 10 whites, according to AP surveys. Those discounting him as a factor heavily favored Obama.
Clinton won 60 percent of the white vote, but Obama claimed support from roughly 90 percent of the blacks who cast ballots. That gave him a decisive advantage among a population where blacks comprise a third of voters.
Eighteen percent of voters overall said race was an important factor in deciding their vote. Nearly a quarter of black voters said race was important, and 93 percent of those respondents voted for Obama. Fourteen percent of white voters said race was important, and 60 percent of them went for Clinton.
Undecided superdelegate Muriel Offerman, of Cary, said she had earlier wondered if the Wright controversy could have cost Obama her state.
"This week I wasn't sure how this was going to shake out because of the Jeremiah Wright thing and because President Clinton had been here so much," she said in a telephone interview from her home.
Offerman said Obama's racially lopsided victory "is certainly a concern. And I think we all have our work cut out for us."
And Obama captured all age groups except voters over 65, nearly six out of 10 of whom supported Clinton.
He also built a coalition in North Carolina: Poorer, less-educated voters favored Obama, as did more affluent voters with college degrees.
The results came from interviews with 2,271 Democratic primary voters conducted by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International in 35 precincts across North Carolina on Tuesday.
The results include interviews conducted by telephone over the past week with 400 people who voted absentee. The margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
It's about the delegate math
Obama's delegate haul edged him closer to the prize – 1,808.5 to 1,665 for Clinton in The Associated Press count, out of 2,025 needed to win the nomination.
North Carolina had 115 pledged delegates at stake, and Indiana had 72 – nearly half the pledged delegates left with eight primaries to go before voting ends in a month.
The key to the nomination is held by superdelegates, party leaders who are not bound by the outcome of state contests. About 220 are still undecided. Obama has nibbled away at Clinton's lead in superdelegates but trailed with 255 to her 269.5 on Tuesday.
Clinton hopes to persuade undecided superdelegates to disregard his lead in the delegate chase and support her if she scores enough victories in the late primaries.
"If we had the same system as the Republicans, I'd already be the nominee," Clinton said in an interview with WRAL News, because the GOP system focuses on electoral votes.
Answering charges that he was having trouble winning in big states that will be important in the general election, Obama characterized his North Carolina win as "a victory in a big state, a swing state, and a state where we will compete to win if I am the Democratic nominee for president of the United States."
Clinton vowed she would keep on campaigning, singling out West Virginia, with 28 delegates up for grabs on May 13, and Kentucky, with 51 delegates at stake on May 20.
"For too long, we've let places like West Virginia and Kentucky slip out of the Democratic columns," Clinton said. "I intend to win them in November in the general election."
Clinton said she'll fight for delegates from Michigan and Florida, whose will not be seated at the Democratic National Convention, because the state parties held their primaries earlier than national rules permitted.
"You know, it would be odd to have a nominee chosen by 48 states," she said.
The balance of the primary schedule includes Oregon, with 52 delegates on May 20; Puerto Rico with 55 delegates on June 1; and Montana with 16 and South Dakota with 15 on June 3.
"The race isn't going to be decided tonight," Lindsay said. "Either way, I think we're going to have the momentum to keep going, and there's still a lot of movement we can make between now and June 3."