Obama wins Georgia, Illinois

Sen. Barack Obama captured the Illinois and Georgia Democratic primaries Tuesday night while Hillary Clinton appeared headed for victory in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee.

On the Republican side, John McCain won Illinois, New Jersey and Connecticut but failed to beat Mitt Romney in Massachusetts after a big push there. Mike Huckabee won the West Virginia caucus and Arkansas.

In Georgia, exit polls showed black voters made up 52 percent and Obama captured 86 percent. But Obama also won 43 percent of the white vote, a sharp increase over the South Carolina results, a trend that could mean problems for Sen. Hillary Clinton in other states.

Among non African-American voters, Obama easily beat Clinton, garnering well over 50 percent.

Reports The Associated Press:

Sen. John McCain won primaries in Connecticut, New Jersey and Illinois Tuesday night, reaching for command of the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton swapped victories as they waged a coast-coast struggle for delegates in the grueling Democratic campaign.

Obama won in Georgia and his home state of Illinois. Clinton countered in Oklahoma.

McCain’s leading rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, won a home state victory.

The Associated Press made its calls based on surveys of voters as they left the polls.

After an early series of low-delegate, single-state contests, Super Tuesday was anything but — 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.

Huckabee won the inaugural Super Tuesday event at the West Virginia Republican convention, netting 18 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.

Not so Republicans, who held several winner-take-all contests.

New Jersey and Connecticut were among them, and they gave McCain 79 delegates in the two combined — leaving his rivals with nothing to show for their efforts there.

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, and Clinton was gaining the votes of roughly six in 10 Hispanics.

In the GOP race, McCain had a small edge among voters calling themselves Republicans, a group he had not won in any of the earlier races. As usual, he was running strongly among independents. Gov. Mitt Romney was getting the votes of about four in 10 people who described themselves as conservative. McCain was wining about one-third of that group, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee about one in five.

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.

McCain was the Republican front-runner, all but unchallenged in winner-take-all primaries in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. He looked for a home-state win in Arizona, as well.

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 Paul. 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.

After a brief rest for the holiday, the candidates flew back to Iowa on Dec. 26 for a final stretch of campaigning before the state’s caucuses offered the first test of the election year. New Hampshire’s traditional first-in-the-nation primary followed a few days later, then a seemingly endless series of campaign days interspersed by debates and a handful of primaries and caucuses.

Along the way, the poorest performers dropped out: Democratic Sens. Joe Biden and Chris Dodd, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio; and Republican Reps. Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo, and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson.

Former Sen. John Edwards pulled out of the Democratic race last week, and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani left the Republican field.

Edwards offered no endorsement as he exited, instead leaving Obama and Clinton to vie for help from his fundraisers and supporters.

But Obama benefited from an endorsement by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who made a series of campaign appearances in California as well as his home state of Massachusetts.

Giuliani quit the race and backed McCain in the same breath, clearing the way for the Westerner in New York and New Jersey.

Giuliani’s departure also made it possible for California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to back McCain. Schwarzenegger said he would not have done so as long as the former mayor was in the race.

Obama and Clinton spent an estimated $20 million combined to advertise on television 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.

Neither advertised in Illinois, Obama’s home state.