Biloxi, Mississippi: Barack Obama trounced Hillary Clinton in Mississippi’s Democratic primary, riding huge support from African Americans, as a nasty new race row rocked their White House battle.
The Illinois senator punched back with his second win in a row since the former first lady’s campaign-saving wins in Texas and Ohio last week, which halted his own 12-contest win streak and extended their epic struggle.
Even as Mississippi voted, the tone of the contest took another negative lurch, as the Obama camp demanded the ouster of Clinton supporter Geraldine Ferraro, who put Obama’s stunning rise in big-time US politics down to his race.
With its 33 nominating delegates, conservative, Deep South Mississippi, reliably Republican in general elections, was the last showdown in the Democratic race before the more significant Pennsylvania primary on 22 April.
“We have had a terrific week, we have won Wyoming, we have won Mississippi,” Obama told MSNBC after his victory, and rapped Clinton over her 2002 Senate vote to authorize war in Iraq, a conflict he opposed.
In a statement, he said people in Mississippi joined “millions of Americans from every corner of the country who have chosen to turn the page on the failed politics of the past and embrace our movement for change.”
Mississippi did not change the race, but allowed Obama to pad his lead in the race for nominating delegates doled out after each state contest.
Clinton campaign manager Maggie Williams congratulated Obama and looked forward to Pennsylvania and beyond, but there was no direct comment from the candidate herself.
With 99% of precincts reporting in Mississippi, Obama had won 61% of the vote compared to 37% for Clinton.
Television exit polls showed a large racial divide: half of the Democratic electorate was African Americans, nine in ten of whom went for Obama, according to MSNBC figures.
Fox News exit polls said white men voted for Clinton 69 to 30%, and white women by 74% to 26%.
According to a tally by RealClearPolitics.com, the Mississippi victory left Obama with 1,606 delegates compared to 1,484 for Clinton, both still well short of the 2,025 necessary to clinch the party’s nomination.
The latest racially tinged row of an increasingly ugly campaign raged after Ferraro told a California newspaper: “if Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position.”
The first African-American with a viable shot at the White House, Obama called the remarks by the woman who made history as the Democrats’ 1984 vice presidential candidate “patently absurd.”
“I don’t think that Geraldine Ferraro’s comments have any place in our politics or the Democratic Party,” he told Pennsylvania newspaper The Morning Call.
His campaign clamored for Ferraro’s head, noting the swift resignation of an Obama aide last week after her remark that Clinton was a “monster.”
New York Senator Clinton said she did “not agree” with the comments and found it “regrettable” that supporters might resort to personal attacks, but did not cut Ferraro loose from her finance committee.
“We ought to keep this focused on the issues. That’s what this campaign should be about,” she said in Pennsylvania.
In a second interview with the Daily Breeze, which carried her original remarks, Ferraro escalated the row.
“Any time anybody does anything that in any way pulls this campaign down and says, let’s address reality and the problems we’re facing in this world, you’re accused of being racist, so you have to shut up,” she said.
“Racism works in two different directions. I really think they’re attacking me because I’m white. How’s that?”
Even if Florida and Michigan repeat their contests after having their delegates stripped for holding their primaries early, neither candidate can cross the magic threshold of 2,025 delegates.
So the nomination will likely rest in the hands of nearly 800 “superdelegates,” Democratic party officials now under enormous pressure from the two campaigns to sway one way or another.
Republicans were also voting Tuesday.
But as Senator John McCain has already clinched enough delegates to be the party’s standard-bearer in the November presidential election, there was little question about the outcome. McCain had 79% of the vote with 99% counted.