Obama pummels Clinton in White House clean sweep

SEATTLE, United States (AFP) – Senator Barack Obama swept the board Saturday, pummeling Hillary Clinton in three Democratic nominating contests, as Republican Mike Huckabee gave John McCain a run for his money.

Obama, who is locked in a battle with Clinton for the party’s nomination, won big in Washington state, Nebraska, Louisiana, and the Virgin Islands, outscoring the former first lady by 2 to 1.

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The Illinois senator, bidding to be the country’s first black president, swept Washington and Nebraska with a staggering 68 percent of the vote.

In Louisiana, with 98 percent of precincts reporting, he was on 57 percent.

“We won north, we won south, we won in between,” Obama told 6,000 cheering guests in an electrifying speech at a Democratic dinner in Virginia. “People want to turn the page. They want to write a new chapter in American history. And today the voters from the west coast to the Gulf coast to the heart of America stood up to say yes, we can,” Obama said.

Saturday’s results give 46-year-old Obama a high-voltage burst of energy ahead of the next nominating contests: on Tuesday in Virginia, Maryland and Washington DC and then Texas and Ohio on March 4.

And the latest results will be a blow to New York Senator Clinton in her bid to be the first woman president, as she badly needs a win as the race moves to new battlegrounds after the Super Tuesday contests ended in a stalemate.

Clinton, 60, was also pumping up the crowds at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Richmond, Virginia, asking: “Are you ready to take back the White House and take back our country?”

She was warmly received, but it was Obama who raised the roof.

On the Republican side, ordained Baptist minister Huckabee wrested two states from the apparent Republican front-runner McCain, in a boost to his flagging campaign.

He took Kansas by 60 percent, and after a fierce neck-and-neck battle in Louisiana, snatched the state with 44 percent to 42 percent for McCain.

McCain won the Republican caucuses in Washington state, but his narrow victory — 26 percent against 24 percent for Huckabee and 21 percent for Texas Congressman Ron Paul — showed he still had to convince many of the party’s conservatives to support him.

A Vietnam war hero, McCain, 71, is virtually assured of the party’s nomination for the November elections, with some 724 delegates to 196 for Huckabee.

A total of 1,191 are needed for the nomination. But Huckabee has been doing well in conservative, rural states.

“I majored in miracles, and I still believe in them,” he told supporters Saturday, warning McCain “the game is on.”

Clinton and Obama are locked in a tussle for delegates to the party’s convention in Denver in August, chasing the 2,025 delegates needed to win the party’s nomination for November’s presidential elections.

Thanks to the complex Democratic Party rules, it was not immediately clear how many delegates Obama picked up from his victories on Saturday.

But Washington state was the biggest prize with 78 delegates up for grabs, and a further 19 superdelegates who can vote for whom they like.

Louisiana has some 56 delegates; Nebraska has 24. Maine, which votes on Sunday, has 24 delegates and 10 superdelegates.

Three delegates were at stake in the Virgin Islands, a US possession in the Caribbean Sea east of Puerto Rico, which Obama won with 89 percent support, US media reported.

A tally by independent pollsters RealClearPolitics late Saturday put Clinton only marginally ahead in the delegate count, with 1,112 to Obama’s 1,096.

A national Newsweek poll out Friday had Obama overtaking Clinton’s once-commanding lead for the first time, with 42 percent to 41.

Obama late Saturday claimed as his own the Democratic Party’s crown for the November polls.

“The Republicans in Washington are already running on the politics of yesterday which is why your party must be the party of tomorrow and that is the party I intend to lead as president of the United States of America,” he said to deafening cheers.

Obama appears poised for victory in Virginia and Maryland, in part due to the large number of African-American voters.

Virginia Governor Tim Kaine said he endorsed Obama because “he is a unifier in times of bitter division. He is an agent of change at a time when our nation needs change.” Pete Crane, a Washington state caucus-goer for more than 30 years, said the turnout at a caucus in Bremerton was “by far” the biggest crowd he had seen. “It was an incredible crowd, probably three times what it was four years ago,” Crane told AFP.

The precinct went 32 to 12 to Obama.