Hillary Clinton and John McCain each won the California primaries, the biggest prizes on Super Tuesday’s bonanza of delegates that nevertheless left the races for party nominations unsettled.
Almost two dozen states held contests, and on the Democratic side, the races may end up as a draw as delegates are determined over the next day or so. Barack Obama’s campaign expected to keep apace of Clinton in those total after scoring wins in Connecticut, Missouri, Delaware and Colorado and nine other states.
On the GOP side, McCain added to his delegate count with wins in New York, Illinois and New Jersey and six other states, but his momentum was stymied a bit by surprising number of victories by Mike Huckabee in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee and West Virginia. With his unexpected wins, Huckabee aced out McCain’s chief rival, Mitt Romney, who won in Colorado, Minnesota and Montana.
McCain’s greatest challenge may have come from conservative talk radio hosts, including Rush Limbaugh, who tried to mount a last-minute challenge to McCain’s march to the nomination, questioning his conservative credentials.
“Tonight we won the closest thing we’ve ever had to a national primary,” McCain told supporters. “…We are the Republican party front-runner for the nomination.”
Clinton scored decisive wins in her home state of New York, as well as seven other states including Tennessee, Oklahoma, New Jersey and Massachusetts, the latter of which was a symbolic if not significant victory given Obama’s endorsement by that state’s senator, Edward Kennedy.
In California, Clinton’s campaign ran an aggressive early voting operation, and benefited from strong support among Latinos as well as the organizational strength of key elected officials. But in recent days in California, polls had showed the race dead even, if not favoring Obama.
Clinton “bounced back from what I thought many people saw as a very perilous situation,” said John Emerson, the chairman of the Los Angeles Music Center and one of her key backers in the city. “That, in and of itself, creates momentum.”
Her campaign was expected to claim the most popular votes, as she won so many of the larger states.
Obama won in his home state of Illinois and scored significant victories in Utah, Georgia, Delaware, Minnesota, Colorado and Connecticut. His campaign was encouraged by exit polls that showed him making some gains among white voters and among Hispanics, although Clinton holds a majority of each.
“We never thought we were going to win California,” said Irena Medavoy, one of Obama’s key supporters and fund-raiser in the entertainment industry. “You are going after a 20-year-old brand, an incredible machine.
Along with her husband, Mike Medavoy, she hosted a viewing party with other Obama supporters at their Beverly Park home, and “the feeling in the room was that were are taking this all the way.”
But the number of state wins or even popular vote totals are not as important as the delegate counts, an often complicated exercise in mathematics that belies popular vote totals.
Some 1,681 delegates were at stake in the Democratic races and 1,023 in the GOP contests, with the biggest prize coming in California and its rich trove of delegates. Some 370 delegates were at stake in the Democratic contest in California, and 170 in the Republican matchup.
“We are going to come out of it in much better shape than we could have imagined,” Obama’s campaign manager, David Plouffe, said in a conference call with reporters.
With nearly two dozen contests for each party, the sheer sweep of the race and the compact schedule had candidates pulling out all the stops to draw attention to their campaigns, from deploying celebrities to the stump to unleashing music videos on YouTube. Will.i.am created a music video tied to Obama’s post-New Hampshire speech that drew more than 1 million hits on YouTube.
Nothing, it seems, was out of the question. On Monday, Obama appeared in New Jersey with Robert DeNiro, and Scarlett Johannson and Stevie Wonder did robocalls to get out the vote, and the remaining members of the Grateful Dead reunited to raise money for his campaign. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton riffed on the radio with Jack Nicholson, and also did an Us magazine feature in which she selected her fashion faux pas.
In the Golden State, McCain perhaps benefited from the endorsement of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who gave him his blessing after Rudy Giuliani dropped out of the race last week.
But the real intensity in California was on the Democratic side, where Clinton saw polls tighten in state that had been regarded as a stronghold. She campaigned aggressively in the past week, drawing huge crowds at a Saturday rally populated by appearances by Hollywood figures like “Ugly Betty” star America Ferrera and actress Sally Field.
The Obama campaign, trying to shore up Clinton’s presumed strength among Latinos and women, enlisted Kennedy to stump for the candidate in East Los Angeles. And on Sunday, Oprah Winfrey returned to the campaign trail in a UCLA rally with Caroline Kennedy and the candidate’s wife, Michelle. The surprise appearance was that of Maria Shriver, Schwarzenegger’s wife, who announced her support for Obama.
The rivalry between the two campaigns also broke out in Hollywood’s donor community, where Obama and Clinton had each raised more than $2.5 million from entertainment sources by the end of 2007. In the days leading up to the primary, there was considerable tension in Hollywood circles after a Clinton donor sent out an e-mail questioning Obama’s commitment to Israel, with Obama supporters firing back an email charging that his record had been distorted.
Meanwhile, state officials reported some confusion at the polls as dozens of decline-to-state voters called to complain. Such independent voters had to fill out an extra bubble on their ballot to have their vote count.
At the Avalon in Hollywood, where Obama supporters gathered, spirits were still positive despite the loss. Clinton’s campaign held a victory party at IATSE’s Local 80 in Burbank. The union endorsed Clinton in December.
In New York, Clinton was joined by some of her key Hollywood backers, including Haim Saban, Rob Reiner and political consultant Chad Griffin. Reflecting the nuts and bolts work of many celebrities in this race, Reiner stood at a subway stop Tuesday afternoon at 72nd and Broadway, reminding voters that polls were open until 9 p.m.
Pamela McClintock, William Triplett and Sam Thielman contributed to this report.