Obama, McCain win Wisconsin primary

Presidential hopeful, Sen. John McCain, left, speaks at a news conference in Columbus, Ohio with his wife, Cindy.
(Kiichiro Sato / Associated Press)
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

Barack Obama swept to a double-digit victory in the Wisconsin primary Tuesday, turning aside a fierce effort by Hillary Rodham Clinton and further propelling his campaign as the Democrats head toward epic contests in Ohio and Texas.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, defeated former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, 55% to 37%, in their party’s contest in Wisconsin. McCain also won the GOP’s Washington primary, moving him closer to formally clinching the nomination, even as Huckabee continued to resist pressure to withdraw in the cause of unity.

With his 58% to 41% Wisconsin victory, Obama widened his narrow lead over Clinton in delegates. With a victory late Tuesday in caucuses in Hawaii, he extended his streak to ten, winning every contest since the Feb. 5 blast of coast-to-coast primaries and caucuses.

The Illinois senator accepted victory at a rally in Houston, where he told thousands of rabid supporters that “the change we seek is still months and miles away, and we need the good people of Texas to help us get there.”

“We will need you to fight for every delegate it takes to win this nomination,” he said. “And if we win the nomination, if we are blessed and honored to win the nomination, then we’re going to need your help to win the election in November.”

Both McCain, anticipating a November matchup, and Clinton, straining to survive to the next big contests on March 4, took after Obama as they spoke to supporters Tuesday night. Clinton did not mention the Wisconsin results when, in Youngstown, Ohio, she forwarded her most lancing election night critique of Obama.

“While words matter, the best words in the world aren’t enough unless you match them with action,” the New York senator said.

“One of us is ready to be commander in chief in a dangerous world,” Clinton said. “One of us has a plan to provide healthcare for every American from Day One. . . . One of us has faced serious Republican opposition in the past and is ready to do it again.”

Aides said she called Obama with congratulations after her speech.

McCain, speaking in Columbus, Ohio, contrasted himself with “the confused leadership of an inexperienced candidate” -- clearly meaning Obama.

“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,” he added.

Obama returned the jabs. Without naming Clinton, he said that change would “require more than policy papers and positions and websites. . . . Because the problem that we face in America today is not a lack of good ideas. It’s that Washington has become a place where good ideas go to die.”

Obama called McCain a “genuine American hero” but disputed the premise of his candidacy.

“When he embraces George Bush’s failed economic policies, when he says that he is willing to send our troops into another 100 years of war in Iraq,” Obama said, “then he represents the policies of yesterday, and we want to be the party of tomorrow.”

Wisconsin offered some promise to Clinton because of its mass of mostly white working-class voters -- who until last week had backed her. Yet they spurned Clinton on Tuesday. She won women, a bulwark of her campaign, only narrowly. Obama swamped Clinton among one of his strongest voter blocs, the young. He won all age groups under 65, and ran strongly among independents, who were allowed to vote in either primary.

In Wisconsin, Clinton and Obama were vying for 74 delegates, while Huckabee and McCain were competing for 37. Most were to be allocated based on results in the state’s eight congressional districts.

In Hawaii, meanwhile, 20 delegates were at stake in caucuses that were open only to Democrats. And in Washington, 19 Republican delegates were to be determined. Although voting also was held on the Democratic side, the party’s delegates were apportioned according to the results of a Feb. 9 caucus.

Voters in Wisconsin bundled up against the single-digit chill -- many in green and gold, the colors of their beloved Green Bay Packers -- as a rush of voting opened the day.

The economy was their primary concern, exit polls and interviews showed.

Mirriam Tarrisa, 67, a retired secretary, moved to West Allis, a suburb of Milwaukee, eight years ago. She described herself as a longtime Republican who came to the polls to vote for Obama. She had been torn between McCain and Obama but said she sided with the Democrat because she thought he would cap taxes and seek universal health coverage.

“Wisconsin has been losing a lot of jobs and a lot of benefits,” Tarrisa said. “The factories are pretty much gone. Our economy needs help, and I don’t think raising taxes is the way to go. I’ve seen Obama speak and I really am impressed by him. I’m too old to not believe that the Democrats won’t boost taxes. But I’m also too old to believe that the Republicans won’t raise taxes too.”

Supporting Clinton was Katherine Boehles, 24, a stay-at-home mother voting for the first time. Until now, she said, she had never been inspired.

“Never seemed like my vote would matter,” Boehles said. “I never thought any of the candidates were much to support, either.”

This time, though, she said she went out to vote with one goal in mind: “I want to keep the Republicans out. Anyone but a Republican.”

Tuesday’s vote closed a fierce contest for a state destined by the calendar to act as an accelerator or brake as the candidates drive toward the March 4 primaries.

Clinton, reeling from a string of defeats, including the Maryland, Virginia and District of Columbia contests one week ago, opened her campaign here by criticizing Obama for not debating her in Wisconsin. The sniping between the two gradually gave way to a tussle over who could best allay economic concerns here and across the Midwest -- traditionally key electoral territory in the November general election.

On Tuesday, she stopped by a diner in a Cleveland suburb to chat with voters. She praised the windmill she spotted on the shores of Lake Erie as a sign of how Rust Belt jobs could be transformed into green ones. And she continued to insist she was the Democrat most likely to win in November.

“I’ve been through the Republican attack machine,” she said. “You know I can take a punch. And I come back.”

She also began airing an ad called “Night Shift,” meant to appeal to members of the two groups that have propelled her earlier victories: women and economically stressed voters.

“You pour coffee, fix hair, you work the night shift at the local hospital. You’re often overworked, underpaid and sometimes overlooked.” the ad says, then adds of Clinton, pictured working at her desk: “She understands. She’s worked the night shift too.”

As Clinton traveled from Parma to Youngstown in Ohio, Obama campaigned in the other major March 4 state, greeting voters in San Antonio and Houston. At a mortgage round table in San Antonio, he chastised the Bush administration’s handling of the nation’s mortgage crisis and pushed back against Clinton’s argument that she offered “solutions” to his “speeches”.

He said Clinton’s plan to freeze existing adjustable rate mortgages for five years would “reward people who made this problem worse, and it will also reward folks who are wealthy and don’t need it.”

In addition, he said, the kind of “blanket freeze” Clinton proposed “will drive rates through the roof " for those trying to buy or refinance.

Obama was greeted by a new poll showing the race in Texas a dead heat -- Clinton had led in all earlier polls -- and he moved to take advantage of any momentum.

Tuesday was the first day in which Texans could vote early, and at an outdoor rally in San Antonio he urged residents to “go vote. Right now, right now, right now. Don’t wait until March 4.”

He also defended himself against Clinton’s characterization of him as a candidate whose rhetorical flourishes mask a dearth of detail.

“Because I can give a good speech, and people are inspired and excited, the assumption is, well, that must not be important,” he said. “But you know what, it is important to get people motivated. . . . You can have all the policy position papers in the world. If you can’t mobilize the American people, if you can’t lead, then nothing’s going to happen.”

In Wisconsin, Democrats fanned most of the campaign’s flames, but the Republican contest drew voters as well. Hannah Wells, 73, of West Allis voted for McCain because she was convinced that he was the best choice to fix the economy. If, she said, anyone can.

“The economy is what worries me,” Wells said. “Prices keep going up and up. Food prices. Gas prices. Heating bills. I used to get 18 eggs at Costco for $1.50. Now, it’s $3. That might not seem much to some people. But when you’re on Social Security, every penny counts.”

In Milwaukee, LaMonte C. Harris, 42, was one of a crew of African American volunteers driving voters to the polls. By Monday night, they had taken 670 people to vote early. By Tuesday morning, 650 more had signed up as needing rides, in part because of the treacherous weather conditions.

Harris himself had voted early, and happily so.

“The idea of voting for a black man to be president of the United States, during Black History Month? Who else could I vote for?” he asked.

Decker reported from Los Angeles and Huffstutter from Wisconsin.

Times staff writers Maria L. La Ganga in Texas and Nicholas Riccardi in Ohio contributed to this report.