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Hillary Rodham Clinton scored three victories in a night of revival that denied Barack Obama a ripe opportunity to drive her from the Democratic presidential race. Clarity came only to the Republican side, where John McCain made the nomination his own.
Clinton won the big races in Ohio and Texas, as well as Rhode Island, to break her costly losing streak, and asserted, “This nation’s coming back and so is this campaign.” But Obama came away with a large share of delegates, too, in counting that continued Wednesday, meaning he’s got a lead that’s tough to overcome.
McCain’s long-slog victory was a striking achievement in a party once wary of his famously independent ways, now his party to lead in the November election.
The Arizona senator won a final validation — an invitation to the White House on Wednesday to receive the endorsement of President Bush, his nemesis in a past campaign, in a symbolic closing of the ranks.
No such unity came from the Democrats; instead, their crackling race was still on, and perplexing as ever.
“Boy, thank you Oh-HI-o,” Clinton said in her victory speech. Obama won in Vermont.
Clinton won about 55 percent of the Ohio vote in nearly complete returns. She was winning just over half in the Texas primary.
She still faced a daunting task trying to overtake Obama in the remaining contests. It was questionable whether she would make up much ground once the final results were in and the complexities of allotting the 370 delegates at stake in the four states were ironed out.
“We have nearly the same delegate lead as we did this morning,” Obama said, “and we are on our way to winning this nomination.”
In the four-state competition for delegates, Clinton picked up at least 115, to at least 88 for Obama. Nearly 170 more remained to be allocated for the night, 154 of them in the Texas primary and the caucuses that immediately followed.
Obama took the lead in Texas caucuses before counting closed for the night — 55 percent to 44 percent, with results in from 40 percent.
Obama had a total of 1,477 delegates, including separately chosen party and elected officials known as superdelegates, according to the Associated Press count. He picked up three superdelegate endorsements Tuesday.
Clinton had 1,391 delegates. It takes 2,025 to win the nomination.
Wyoming offers 12 delegates in caucuses Saturday; Mississippi has 33 at stake next week. The biggest remaining prize is Pennsylvania, with 158 delegates, April 22.
Clinton and Obama spent most of the past two weeks in Ohio and Texas in a bruising campaign, with the former first lady questioning his sincerity in opposing the North American Free Trade Agreement and darkly hinting he’s not ready to be commander in chief in a crisis.
Polling place interviews with voters in both states suggested the criticism hit home, finding Clinton was winning the votes of late deciders in Ohio and Texas, as well as Vermont.
Opinion polls had shown Obama overcoming significant and long-standing Clinton leads in Texas and Ohio, but his gains slowing in the final stretch.
Hispanics, a group that has favored Clinton in earlier primaries, cast nearly one-third of the Election Day votes in Texas, up from about one-quarter of the ballots four years ago, according to interviews with voters as they left their polling places.
Blacks, who have voted heavily for Obama this year, accounted for roughly 20 percent of the votes cast, roughly the same as four years ago.
Both Democrats called McCain — a Senate colleague — to congratulate him on his triumph in the Republican race.
The 71-year-old Arizona senator surpassed the 1,191 delegates needed to win his party’s nomination.
He sealed a nomination race against odds that seemed steep only a few months ago, and all but impossible last summer.
Facing a couple of well-financed marquee candidates in a crowded field, he opened his comeback in New Hampshire’s leadoff primary, rolled over Rudy Giuliani in Florida and finished off Mitt Romney after Super Tuesday on Feb. 5.
Mike Huckabee hung in until Tuesday night, gamely keeping up the fight weeks after dropping from long shot to afterthought. He went out as he came in — never missing a chance for a wisecrack.
“It’s time for us to hit the reset button,” he said. “We started this effort with very little recognition and virtually no resources. We ended with slightly more recognition and very few resources.”
Huckabee became a passing sensation with his victory in the leadoff Iowa caucuses, and a continued draw for religious conservatives who consider McCain too moderate or liberal.
A heavy dose of establishment endorsements helped McCain power through that problem, as did his broadening support in later contests, but it’s uncertain how enthusiastically the party’s base will rally behind him in the fall.
On Tuesday night, he delivered a speech on the state of the union as he wants to make it: secure from Islamic extremism, victorious in Iraq, confident in trade, sound in its economy.
Americans aren’t interested in an election where they are just talked to and not listened to; an election that offers platitudes instead of principles and insults instead of ideas,” he said.
“Their patience is at an end for politicians who value ambition over principle, and for partisanship that is less a contest of ideas than an uncivil brawl over the spoils of power.”