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US: Obama on a roll after three big wins

Democrat Barack Obama’s three decisive wins over rival Hillary Clinton propelled him yesterday into the next round of presidential contests on a wave of momentum and sent her scrambling to find an answer. Bill Clinton’s former campaign manager backs Obama.

Obama and Republican front-runner John McCain cruised to victories in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia on Tuesday, with McCain moving closer to clinching his party’s nomination for the November election. Obama extended his hot streak to eight consecutive wins over Clinton in a hard-fought presidential campaign that appears to be tipping his way. The victories allowed Obama to expand his lead in pledged convention delegates, who will select the Democratic Party’s nominee at its August convention. “This is the new American majority,” Obama told supporters in Madison, Wisconsin, where the next showdown occurs in a week. “This is what change looks like when it happens from the bottom up.” Clinton, whose deputy campaign manager resigned in her latest staff shake-up, already was counting on contests in Ohio and Texas in three weeks as her best hope to stop Obama’s surge.

McCain’s wins over his last major challenger, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, had him looking toward a general election match-up with the Democrats despite continued qualms among conservatives about his views on immigration, tax cuts and other issues. “We do not know for certain who will have the honor of being the Democratic Party’s nominee for president. But we know where either of their candidates will lead this country, and we dare not let them,” McCain, an Arizona senator, told supporters in Alexandria, Virginia. All three of Obama’s wins on Tuesday occurred in fertile territory for him, featuring large populations of the highly educated, high-income and black voters who have favored the Illinois senator.

Obama expands support
But exit polls indicated Obama dramatically expanded his support and cut into Clinton’s core groups. Obama led among women, Hispanics, seniors and in every income and education level in Virginia and essentially split the white vote with Clinton. Obama already had edged past Clinton in the race for pledged delegates who formally select a party nominee at a convention in August. A total of 168 Democratic delegates were at stake in Tuesday’s voting. Obama had 1,074 pledged delegates to Clinton’s 967, according to a count by MSNBC - well short of the 2,025 needed to clinch the Democratic nomination. “Tonight, we’re on our way,” Obama said. “But we know how much further we have to go. 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’s latest staff defection was deputy campaign manager Mike Henry. He was brought into the campaign by Patti Solis Doyle, who stepped down as campaign manager on Sunday. Henry, who managed Virginia Governor Tim Kaine’s win in 2005, was the author of a memo last year that recommended Clinton skip the kick-off Democratic contest in Iowa. Clinton did not follow his advice and finished third.

Bill Clinton’s former campaign manager backs Obama
The man who managed Bill Clinton’s winning 1992 presidential campaign endorsed Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) for US president Wednesday, snubbing Clinton’s wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) in the process. David Wilhelm, a former Democratic National Committee chairman, was quoted by ABC News as saying that Obama has tapped into “a sense of energy, a sense of idealism, that I’d like to think we were able to tap into in 1992” on the Bill Clinton campaign. Wilhelm’s support brings benefits for Obama. He is a super delegate to the Democratic National Convention, which means Obama is now one vote closer to the party nomination. Wilhelm is well-known in Democratic circles, and will lobby other super delegates, who are the party insiders and elected officials not chosen by state primaries or caucuses, to support Obama. He also brings a strategic knowledge of the political landscape in Ohio, a state set to play a crucial role in the Democratic nominating process when it holds its primary on March 4.

McCain close to victory
In the Republican race, McCain has built a nearly insurmountable lead in delegates to the party’s nominating convention and became the likely nominee last week with the withdrawal of top rival former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. McCain has won 801 of the 1,191 delegates needed for nomination while Huckabee has 240. But exit polls showed McCain still had difficulty winning over conservatives. Those who described themselves as very conservative accounted for about one-third of Virginia Republican voters, and two-thirds of those went for Huckabee. (