Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton appeared headed to a split in crucial presidential contests in Indiana and North Carolina on Tuesday, pushing Obama closer to securing the Democratic nomination but keeping Clinton's hopes alive.
CBS News projected a Clinton win in Indiana, which would preserve her slender chances in a prolonged Democratic duel that now moves to the next contest in one week in West Virginia.
Three hours after the CBS projection, other networks had not made a call with 86 percent of the vote counted and Clinton leading 52 percent to 48 percent.
The uncounted votes were in a northwest Indiana county with a sizable black population near Obama's hometown of Chicago, where he could be expected to do well.
Obama swamped Clinton in North Carolina, rebounding from a rough campaign patch fueled by his comments on "bitter" small-town residents and a controversy over racially charged comments by his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
The two Democrats are embroiled in a grueling battle for the right to represent the party in November's presidential election against Republican John McCain.
"We have seen that it's possible to overcome the politics of division and distraction, that it's possible to overcome the same old negative attacks," Obama told cheering supporters in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Obama, a 46-year-old Illinois senator who would be the first black U.S. president, started his remarks by congratulating Clinton on "what appears to be a victory in the great state of Indiana."
An upbeat Clinton told supporters in Indianapolis: "It's full speed on to the White House."
Clinton, a 60-year-old New York senator and former first lady who would be the country's first woman president, also asked for donations to keep alive her campaign, which has been heavily outspent by Obama.
Obama wins big in North Carolina
Obama's big win in North Carolina, where he led 57 percent to 43 percent with 95 percent of the vote counted, moved him closer to the 2,025 delegates needed to clinch the nomination at the party's August convention.
The result dealt a heavy blow to Clinton's efforts to overtake him in either delegates or popular votes won during the state-by-state nominating contests that began in January.
Indiana and North Carolina, with a combined 187 delegates to the Democrats' convention at stake, were the biggest prizes left in the Democratic race. Only six contests remain with a combined 217 delegates at stake.
Obama has an almost unassailable lead in pledged delegates who will help select the Democratic nominee.
An MSNBC count before Tuesday's contests had Obama with 1,746 delegates to Clinton's 1,611. Delegates had not been awarded from Tuesday's contests, but they are allocated on a proportional, rather than a winner-take-all basis.
A close result in Indiana and the big margin in North Carolina would expand Obama's lead in the delegate count.
"We're nearing the finish line," Obama's chief strategist David Axelrod told reporters. "I think we've taken another big step down the road here to ending this contest and beginning the general election campaign."
Neither candidate can win enough delegates to clinch the race before the state-by-state voting ends on June 3, leaving the decision to nearly 800 superdelegates -- party insiders free to back any candidate.
Dodging a knock-out
Clinton will have dodged another potential knock-out blow from Obama if her projected Indiana win holds. Her campaign said the race was far from over.
"They've been trying to wrap up this nomination over the will of the voters for a long time, and it hasn't worked," said Clinton spokesman Mo Elleithee. "There's a funny thing about democracy. Voters like to have a say."
Exit polls showed the faltering U.S. economy, which has increasingly preoccupied voters around the country, was the top issue for two-thirds of Indiana voters and about 6 of every 10 voters in North Carolina.
Clinton narrowly led among those voters in Indiana, while Obama led in North Carolina.
In the last week, the two Democrats had courted working- and middle-class voters suffering from an ailing economy and high gas prices and battled over Clinton's proposal to lift the federal gasoline tax for the summer.
Exit polls showed about half of Clinton's supporters in Indiana said they would either not vote or support McCain if Obama won the nomination.
Obama appeared to be addressing those concerns in his victory speech, and was already looking toward a campaign against McCain in November.
"This fall, we intend to march forward as one Democratic Party, united by a common vision for this country," said Obama.
Voter turnout was reported high in both states, as it has been throughout the Democratic race -- a reflection of the interest and enthusiasm the duel between Obama and Clinton has generated among Democrats.
Last Mod: 07 Mayıs 2008, 08:08