Barack Obama rolled up a commanding victory Tuesday in the Mississippi primary, padding his delegate lead and gaining a psychological boost ahead of next month’s big Democratic showdown in Pennsylvania.
The results reflected a stark racial divide -- more than nine in 10 African Americans voted for Obama, while seven in 10 whites backed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, according to exit polls. Overall, black voters accounted for roughly half the vote.
The win was the second in four days for Obama, who also bested Clinton in Saturday’s Wyoming caucuses. Although the victory was expected, given Mississippi’s large black population and Obama’s consistently strong support among African Americans, the win offered the Illinois senator a lift after several rough campaign days.
The Democratic race, which had seemed nearly settled, was thrown wide open last week when Clinton bounced back from an 11-contest losing streak to edge Obama in three of four states, including crucial victories in the Texas and Ohio primaries. Days later, an Obama advisor, Samantha Power, was forced to step aside after disparaging Clinton in an overseas newspaper interview.
“It’s just another win in our column, and we are getting more delegates,” Obama told CNN in an interview from Chicago, where he spent the night after campaigning in Mississippi and Pennsylvania. (In contrast to the last few weeks, Obama gave no big election-night speech.)
“What we’ve tried to do is steadily make sure that in each state, we are making the case about the need for change in this country. And obviously the people of Mississippi responded,” Obama said.
Clinton, who spent the day stumping in Pennsylvania, had campaign manager Maggie Williams speak on her behalf. “We congratulate Sen. Obama for his win in Mississippi and thank our supporters and volunteers there for their support, hard work and long hours,” Williams said in a statement issued after the polls closed. “Now we look forward to campaigning in Pennsylvania and around the country as this campaign continues.”
On the Republican side, there was no real contest. Sen. John McCain of Arizona clinched his party’s nomination last week and campaigned Tuesday in Missouri before heading to New York for an evening fundraiser. Late results showed him capturing 79% of the GOP vote in Mississippi.
For Democrats, the next six weeks of campaigning will revolve around a single state, Pennsylvania. It votes April 22 and offers 158 pledged delegates, the biggest prize left on the Democrats’ dwindling campaign calendar.
More than three-quarters of the states have now voted, awarding more than 80% of the delegates to the party’s national convention in August. Given the math, it seems nearly certain that the party’s superdelegates -- Democratic leaders who get automatic entry to the convention -- will settle the nominating fight.
There were 33 pledged delegates at stake in Mississippi; Obama won at least 17 and Clinton at least 11, according to the Associated Press. In all, that gives Obama at least 1,596 delegates, and Clinton 1,484. It takes 2,025 to win the Democratic nomination.
Nearly complete returns late Tuesday in Mississippi showed Obama with 61% of the vote to Clinton’s 37%. Both candidates are vying to make history: Clinton as the nation’s first female president and Obama as the first African American.
Race has never been far below the surface of the contest -- it bubbled up again Tuesday in a flap involving Geraldine Ferraro, the Democrats’ vice presidential candidate in 1984 -- and the Mississippi results underscored that reality.
One in four whites said race was important to their vote, and nearly all of them voted for Clinton. Four in 10 blacks said race was important, and nearly all voted for Obama.
The high black turnout helped Obama beat Clinton among voters across a range of education and incomes. Reflecting his recent difficulties, however, he was edged by Clinton among voters who said they made their final decision within the last week.
About one in six voters were independents, and Clinton and Obama split their support -- a contrast with earlier states, where Obama tended to run stronger. About 10% of voters were Republicans, and they preferred Clinton by a 3-to-1 margin, a reversal from most other states.
As for the prospect of the two running together in the fall, six in 10 Obama supporters said he should put Clinton on the ticket if he wins the Democratic nomination. Four in 10 Clinton voters said she should select Obama as her running mate if she prevails.
The Mississippi win was Obama’s sixth among states of the old Confederacy; he also carried Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina and Virginia. Clinton won Arkansas -- where she served as first lady for 12 years -- as well as Texas and Tennessee. Clinton also won Florida, which neither candidate seriously contested.