Obama wins big in North Carolina, Clinton ahead in Indiana

By Ronald Baygents, KUNA,

Washington : Barack Obama soundly defeated Hillary Clinton on Tuesday in the North Carolina primary, while Clinton held a narrow lead in the Indiana primary as the U.S.

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Democratic presidential campaign entered its final four weeks with the nomination undecided, but Obama still the favorite.

With 99 percent of North Carolina precincts counted, Illinois Senator Obama led New York Senator Clinton by 16 percentage points — 58 percent to 42 percent. The win will give him the larger share of the state’s 115 delegates under the Democrats’ proportional system for awarding delegates.

With 95 percent of Indiana precincts tallied, the former first lady was ahead 51 percent to 49 percent, but the contest was too close to call early on Wednesday. There were 72 delegates at stake in Indiana.

Obama, in a rally in North Carolina on Tuesday night, congratulated Clinton on what he said “appears to be” her victory in Indiana. But, he told the crowd, “Tonight we stand less than 200 delegates away from winning the Democratic nomination for president of the United States.” Exit polls in both states showed a racial divide that has characterized the historic campaign pitting Obama, 46, who aims to become the first African-American U.S. president, against Clinton, 60, who hopes to become the first female U.S. president.

In North Carolina, about one-third of all ballots were cast by black voters, and Obama won about 90 percent of them, while Clinton won 60 percent of the white vote. In Indiana, Clinton won by a similar margin among white voters.

While the economy was the top issue in both states, according to exit polls, nearly half of voters in both states said controversial sermons by Obama’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, was very or somewhat important to their vote. In Indiana, nearly three-quarters of those who said it was important voted for Clinton.

Obama leads in pledged delegates, states won, and is ahead in the popular vote, if Florida and Michigan are not factored in. Those states had their delegates discounted by the Democratic Party as a penalty for moving their primaries up in violation of party rules.

During her victory speech in Indian on Tuesday night, Clinton called for those votes to be counted, even though Obama was not on the ballot in Michigan, and neither candidate campaigned in either state.

Only 404 pledged delegates remain to be chosen, and the total of 187 delegates at stake on Tuesday made it the biggest primary day remaining. Clinton would need to win 70 percent of remaining pledged delegates to catch Obama. CNN political analyst David Gergen, an adviser to four U.S. presidents, said on Tuesday night that the nomination was “within the grasp” of Obama, and that Clinton needed to win Indiana and North Carolina to maintain her momentum.

However, Clinton supporters, including Clinton herself, described Indiana as “the tie-breaker,” using a quote Obama used last month to describe the importance of Indiana.

Neither candidate is expected to win the 2,025 delegates needed to clinch the Democratic nomination by June 3, the end of the primary season. The nomination will then likely be decided by the 796 “super-delegates” — Democratic governors, members of Congress and party officials.

The Democratic nominee will face Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, 71, in the November general election.