By Sam Youngman - 02/12/08 09:43 PM EST
Early in the night, moments after polls closed in Virginia, Obama was projected to win the state before completing the Chesapeake sweep with wins in D.C. and Maryland. Maryland polls were kept open until 9:30 Eastern time because of bad weather, but early exit polls painted a nasty picture for rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).
Obama has not lost a race since Super Tuesday, and his continued string of wins will likely only heighten any sense of panic Clinton supporters and donors might be experiencing and the sense of inevitability and euphoria Obama’s supporters are enjoying.
The Clinton campaign has worked to manage expectations over the last several contests as well as those through the end of the month. As such, the New York senator is putting most of her eggs in the baskets of Texas and Ohio, which vote on March 4.
With both campaigns saying that the campaign remains a fluid and close race for convention delegates, Obama is extending his narrow lead in that race.
Democratic rules generally allow for most congressional districts to allocate delegates almost evenly between two serious candidates. But Obama is rolling through recent contests by overwhelming margins.
However, Clinton is far from finished. Despite Obama’s impressive string of wins, the delegate contest – and perhaps more importantly, the superdelegate contest – remain wide open.
There is little doubt though that Obama does appear to have the wind at his back after three consecutive election nights that ended in crushing wins.
On the Republican side, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee continued to refuse to go quietly into the night, challenging presumptive nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) in a close contest in Virginia. McCain eventually pulled out the win, but Huckabee once again exposed the senator’s glaring problems with conservatives in his party.
That said, McCain, who also was projected to win Maryland and D.C. Tuesday night, continued to rack up delegates, making Huckabee’s unlikely comeback a near impossibility.
Huckabee said Tuesday morning he is not going to withdraw anytime soon, and his strong showing in Virginia combined with wins in other Southern and other conservative states have solidified his place with the conservative wing of the party.
Those wins might seem like a mere inconvenience to McCain, who almost has the nomination locked up, but Huckabee’s wins in conservative bastions continue to raise questions about McCain’s viability with conservative Republican voters.
Rick Davis, McCain’s campaign manager, congratulated Huckabee on a “strong showing” Tuesday night, but he went a step further in again proclaiming the inevitability of McCain’s nomination.
“John McCain will be the Republican nominee for president,” Davis said in a statement. “He will continue to campaign hard in the coming contests across the country and unify the Republican Party for victory in November.”
For Obama and Clinton, the race continues to look like a marathon. With a complex delegate allocation system, neither candidate has any reason to concede before some of the later, bigger states have a chance to weigh in.