With big wins in hand, Democrat Barack Obama pointed on Wednesday toward critical showdowns with rival Hillary Clinton next month that could prove decisive in their heavyweight presidential battle.
Obama’s wins in Wisconsin and Hawaii on Tuesday gave him 10 straight victories over Clinton in the Democratic presidential race and expanded his lead in pledged delegates who select the party’s presidential nominee in November’s election.
As the results rolled in, Obama and Clinton already were looking to the March 4 showdowns in two of the biggest states, Texas and Ohio, which have a rich lode of 334 convention delegates at stake.
Wins for Obama could deal a knockout blow to Clinton, but she could rejuvenate her campaign with victories in both states.
“The change we seek is still months and miles away, and we need the good people of Texas to help get us there,” Obama said at a rally with 18,000 supporters in Houston after his win in Wisconsin.
Republican front-runner John McCain also won in Wisconsin, taking another big step toward becoming his party’s nominee in the presidential election.
McCain, an Arizona senator, beat his last remaining major rival, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, to expand his huge and essentially insurmountable lead in delegates.
“Thank you Wisconsin for bringing us to the point where even a superstitious naval aviator can claim with confidence and humility that I will be our party’s nominee for president,” McCain, a former Navy fighter pilot and Vietnam prisoner of war, told supporters in Columbus, Ohio.
McCain made clear who he thought would win the Democratic race, taking direct aim at Obama in a preview of a possible general election match-up. “Will we risk the confused leadership of an inexperienced candidate?” McCain asked.
“I will fight every moment of every day in this campaign to make sure Americans are not deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change that promises no more than a holiday from history,” he said.
Obama took his own shot at McCain, noting his support for President George W. Bush’s economic policies and his support for a prolonged U.S. military presence in Iraq.
“He represents the policies of yesterday and we want to the be the party of tomorrow,” the Illinois senator said.
Obama has broadened his voting coalition and taken control of the race with his string of victories in February. He now has wins in 25 nominating contests to Clinton’s 11.
Obama captured about 58 percent of the vote in Wisconsin, a general election swing state with a large population of blue-collar workers — a big part of Clinton’s constituency and a similar demographic to Ohio.
Like Ohio, the primary also allowed participation by independents — and Obama won their votes. Exit polls also showed Obama, who would be the first black president, won a majority of voters who said the economy was their top issue, and won among white voters, and in all income and education levels.
Clinton, a New York senator and former first lady who would be the first woman president, is the early favorite in both Texas and Ohio, although one public opinion poll in Texas on Monday showed the race in a statistical dead heat.
Clinton did not mention the Wisconsin results during a rally in Youngstown, Ohio, after the race was called.
“We can’t just have speeches. We’ve got to have solutions,” Clinton said. “While words matter, the best words in the world aren’t enough unless you match them with action.”
Obama had 1,156 pledged delegates to Clinton’s 1,014, according to a count by MSNBC. A total of 2,025 are needed to win the nomination. Wisconsin and Hawaii had a combined 94 delegates at stake, and Obama won at least 40 in Wisconsin to Clinton’s 28, MSNBC said.
McCain, who won about 55 percent of the vote in Wisconsin, had 880 delegates to Huckabee’s 243, with 1,191 delegates needed to win. Wisconsin had 37 delegates at stake.
McCain also easily won a primary in Washington state, the second half of the state’s two-tiered nominating contest. The state’s Republicans held a caucus on February 9, won narrowly by McCain.