Barack Obama's decisive victories over Hillary Clinton on Tuesday in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., combined to inch him into the lead for Democratic convention delegates as he stretched his winning streak to eight in a row.
Among Republicans, Arizona Sen. John McCain took another big step toward locking up his party's presidential nomination, winning all three "Potomac primary" contests by comfortable margins. Late Tuesday, he had 789 delegates to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's 241.
With 113 GOP delegates at stake Tuesday and McCain expected to get them all, he can virtually wrap up the nomination by winning Wisconsin's 40 delegates on Feb. 19 and then the 265 available in four states on March 4.
With 98 percent of Virginia results in, McCain led Huckabee by 50 percent to 41 percent. In Washington, D.C., McCain led by 67-17 percent with 89 percent counted. And in Maryland, McCain led 54-30 percent with 13 percent of returns in.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Obama crushed Clinton in all three Tuesday contests: by 64-36 percent in Virginia; by 76-24 percent in Washington, D.C.; and with 13 percent of Maryland returns in, by 62-35 percent there.
Democrats on Tuesday had a total of 168 delegates at stake, and Obama's huge wins positioned him to get a big percentage of that total — as well as strong momentum heading into the next crucial round of primaries.
Associated Press reported late Tuesday that Obama had 1,210 delegates to Clinton's 1,188. A total of 2,025 delegates is needed to win the Democratic nomination.
Clinton had hopes of winning Maryland and Virginia: She had strong support from top Democrats in Maryland and anticipated a sympathetic constituency in Virginia's sizable moderate Democratic population.
But in both states, Obama not only won his usual supporters — higher-income, black and younger voters — he also won them by bigger-than-usual margins. Exit polls showed voters under 30 in Virginia gave Obama a 4-to-1 edge, while those in Maryland preferred him by 2 to 1.
Blacks in both states also gave Obama huge margins. In Virginia, black men went 93 percent to 7 percent for the senator, and black women gave him an 88 percent to 12 percent advantage. In Maryland, Obama won 8 to 1 among blacks.
Obama also did well in places where Clinton was expected to be competitive.
In the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., which accounted for about one-third of the statewide Democratic vote, Obama beat Clinton by better than 3 to 2, and he rolled up similar margins in the Richmond area, as well as in eastern and southeastern Virginia.
Clinton's only big majorities came among white women. In Virginia, they preferred her 58 percent to 42 percent, while white men tilted to Obama by 55 percent to 43 percent. In Maryland, she won 55 to 42 percent among white women, but lost by 10 points among white men.
The two senators move on to compete Feb. 19 in a caucus in Hawaii — Obama's home state — and more significantly, in Wisconsin's primary, where Clinton leads in early polls, but where Obama began campaigning Tuesday.
Obama celebrated his Potomac primary wins with a rally at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and he's scheduled to make three stops in the state Wednesday.
"Tonight we're on our way," he said, adding, "we know our road will not be easy, but we also know that at this moment the cynics can no longer say our hope is false."
Clinton was in El Paso, Texas, Tuesday evening, stumping in a state that has become crucial to her chances.
She did not discuss Tuesday's results, instead focusing on Texas. The New York senator's campaign is pointing to the March 4 contests in Texas and Ohio as crucial to re-establishing her as the front-runner — and perhaps saving her campaign.
"When I think about Texas ... I think about coming here 35 years ago," Clinton told the cheering crowd. "I was working for the Democratic National Committee, and I was going along the border registering voters, and we had the greatest time. I met some of the best friends I ever had in my life."
Now, she said, "here I am back in Texas and I'm asking the children of those voters to vote for me for their future."
Among Republicans, McCain got a brief scare when exit polls suggested a surge of conservative and evangelical voters were going for Huckabee by 2 to 1. But McCain's strong showing in the eastern part of the state, particularly urban areas, carried him to a comfortable win.
At his victory party in Arlington, Va., McCain acknowledged that Huckabee "made things a little too interesting tonight," but he quickly turned his attention to the fall campaign, contrasting himself with Democrats.
"They will paint a picture of the world in which America's mistakes are a greater threat to our security than the malevolent intentions of an enemy that despises us and our ideals," McCain told supporters.