Obama takes Wisconsin for 9th straight win

Barack Obama won the Wisconsin primary Tuesday night, his ninth straight triumph over a fading Hillary Rodham Clinton in their epic struggle for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Obama cut deeply into Clinton’s political bedrock, splitting the support of white women almost evenly with the former first lady and running well among working class voters in a blue collar battleground, according to polling place interviews.

The economy and trade were key issues in the race, and seven in 10 voters said international trade has resulted in lost jobs in Wisconsin. Fewer than one in five said trade has created more jobs than it has lost.

McCain won the Republican primary, with ease, dispatching former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and edging closer to the 1,191 delegates he needs to clinch the nomination at the party convention in St. Paul, Minn. next summer.

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

In a scarcely veiled attack on Obama, the Republican nominee-in-waiting said, “I will fight every moment of every day in this campaign to make sure that Americans are not deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change.”

Independents cast about one-quarter of the ballots in the race between Obama and Clinton, and roughly 15 percent of the electorate were first-time voters, the survey said. Obama has run strongly among independents in earlier primaries, and among younger voters, and cited their support as evidence that he would make a stronger general election candidate in the fall.

Wisconsin offered 74 national convention delegates. There were 20 delegates at stake in caucuses in Hawaii, where Obama spent part of his youth.

Obama began the night with 1,281 delegates in the AP count, and Clinton with 1,218. It takes 2,025 to win the nomination at the party’s national convention in Denver.

Obama began the evening with eight straight primary and caucus victories, a remarkable run that has propelled him past Clinton in the overall delegate race and enabled him to chip away at her advantage among elected officials within the party who will have convention votes as superdelegates.

The Democrats’ focus on trade was certain to intensify, with primaries in Ohio in two weeks and in Pennsylvania on April 22.

Obama’s campaign has already distributed mass mailings critical of Clinton on the issue in Ohio. “Bad trade deals like NAFTA hit Ohio harder than most states. Only Barack Obama consistently opposed NAFTA,” it said.

Obama was in Texas, which has primaries and caucuses on March 4, and Clinton was in Ohio as the votes were counted in Wisconsin.

“Both Senator Obama and I would make history,” the former first lady said in remarks prepared for delivery at a rally in Youngstown.” But only one of us is ready on day one to be commander in chief, ready to manage our economy, and ready to defeat the Republicans.

“Only one of us has spent 35 years being a doer, a fighter and a champion for those who need a voice.”

Clinton’s aides initially signaled she would virtually concede Wisconsin, and the former first lady spent less time in the state than Obama.

Even so, she ran a television ad that accused her rival of ducking a debate in the state and added that she had the only health care plan that would cover all Americans and the only economic plan to stop home foreclosures. “Maybe he’d prefer to give speeches than have to answer questions” the commercial said.

Obama countered with an ad of his own, saying his health care plan would cover more people.

The campaign grew increasingly testy over the weekend, when Clinton’s aides accused Obama of plagiarism for delivering a speech that included words that had first been uttered by Deval Patrick, the Massachusetts governor and a friend of Obama.

“I really don’t think this is too big of a deal,” Obama said, eager to lay the issue to rest quickly. He said Clinton had used his slogans, too.

Even before the votes were tallied in one state, the campaigners were looking ahead.

Texas and Ohio hold primaries on March 4, and some of Clinton’s backers have said the one-time front-runner cannot afford to lose either. Already, she and Obama have begun advertising in Texas, with 193 delegates, and Ohio, with 141, and both visited the two states in the days before Wisconsin primary.

The Pennsylvania primary, with 158 delegates, is April 22, the last big state to vote.

In the Republican race, McCain’s Wisconsin victory came with at least 13 of the 24 delegates at stake. That left him with 921, and Huckabee with 245.

Unlike the Democratic race, McCain was assured of the Republican nomination and concentrated on turning his primary campaign into a general election candidacy.

Huckabee parried occasional suggestions — none of them by McCain — that he quit the race. In a move that was unorthodox if not unprecedented for a presidential contender, he left the country in recent days to make a paid speech in the Grand Cayman Islands.

McCain picked up endorsements from former President George H.W. Bush and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a campaign dropout who urged his 280 delegates to swing behind the party’s nominee-to-be.