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Obama wins North Carolina, says near nomination; Clinton ekes out win in Indiana

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    Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., holds a glass of beer as he greets people at Raleigh Times bar in Raleigh, N.C., on Tuesday.

INDIANAPOLIS - Barack Obama swept to a convincing victory in the North Carolina primary Tuesday night and declared he was closing in on the Democratic presidential nomination. Hillary Rodham Clinton eked out a win in Indiana as she struggled to halt her rival's march into history.

"Tonight we stand less than 200 delegates away from securing the Democratic nomination for president of the United States," Obama told a raucous rally in Raleigh, N.C. and left no doubt he intended to claim the prize.

Clinton stepped before her own supporters not long afterward in Indianapolis. "Thanks to you, it's full speed on to the White House," she said, signaling her determination to fight on in a campaign already waged across more than 16 months and nearly all 50 states.


Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., holds a glass of beer as he greets people at Raleigh Times bar in Raleigh, N.C., on Tuesday.


Returns from 99 percent of North Carolina precincts showed Obama winning 56 percent of the vote to 42 percent for Clinton, a triumph that mirrored his earlier wins in Southern states with large black populations.

That made Indiana a virtual must-win Midwestern contest for the former first lady, who had hoped to counter Obama's persistent delegate advantage with a strong run through the late primaries.

Returns from 99 percent of the precincts showed her with 51 percent to 49 percent for her rival, a margin of little more than 22,000 votes out of more than 1.2 million cast. The outcome wasn't clear for more than six hours after the polls closed, the uncertainty stemming from slow counting in Lake County near Obama's home city of Chicago.

Obama won at least 94 delegates and Clinton at least 75 in the two states combined, with 18 still to be awarded.

Voters in both states fell along racial lines long since established in a marathon race between the nation's strongest-ever black presidential candidate and its most formidable female challenger for the White House.

The economy was the top issue by far in both states, according to interviews with voters as they left their polling places.

Two weeks after a decisive defeat in Pennsylvania, Obama sounded increasingly like he was looking forward to the fall campaign.

"This primary season may not be over, but when it is, we will have to remember who we are as Democrats ... because we all agree that at this defining moment in history a moment when we're facing two wars, an economy in turmoil, a planet in peril we can't afford to give John McCain the chance to serve out George Bush's third term."

Clinton was joined at her rally by her husband Bill, his face sunburned after hours spent campaigning in small-town North Carolina, and their daughter, Chelsea.

She stressed the issue that came to dominate the final days of the primaries in both states, her call for a summertime suspension of the federal gasoline tax. "I think it's time to give Americans a break this summer," she said.

She added that no matter who wins the epic race for the nomination, "I will work for the nominee of this party" in the fall campaign against the Republicans. To emphasize her determination, Clinton announced plans to campaign Thursday in West Virginia, South Dakota and Oregon, three of the remaining primary states.

Obama was gaining more than 90 percent of the black vote in Indiana, while Clinton was winning an estimated 61 percent of the white vote there.

In North Carolina, Clinton won 60 percent of the white vote, while Obama claimed support from roughly 90 percent of the blacks who cast ballots.

Obama's delegate haul edged him closer to his prize 1840.5 to 1,684 for Clinton in The Associated Press count, out of 2,025 needed to win the nomination.

As he told his supporters, Obama was on pace to finish the night within 200 delegates of the total needed. There are 217 delegates at stake in the six primaries yet to come. Another 270 superdelegates remain uncommitted.

He has long led Clinton among delegates won in the primaries and caucuses, and has increasingly narrowed his deficit among superdelegates who will attend the convention by virtue of their status as party leaders. The AP tally showed Clinton with 270.5 superdelegates and Obama with 256.

The impact of a long-running controversy over Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, was difficult to measure.

In North Carolina, six in 10 voters who said Wright's incendiary comments affected their votes sided with Clinton. A somewhat larger percentage of voters who said the pastor's remarks did not matter supported Obama.

The questionnaire used to learn about voter motivation did not include any questions about the gasoline tax.

In Indiana, about one in five voters said they were independents, an additional one in 10 said Republican.

Only Democrats and unaffiliated voters were permitted to vote in North Carolina.

Voting in Indiana was carried out under a state law, recently upheld by the Supreme Court, that requires voters to produce a valid photo ID. About a dozen nuns in their 80s and 90s at St. Mary's Convent in South Bend were denied ballots because they lacked the necessary identification.

Obama leads Clinton in delegates won in primaries and caucuses. Despite his defeat two weeks ago, he has steadily whittled away at her advantage in superdelegates in the past two weeks and trails 269.5 to 255.

Clinton saved her candidacy with her win in Pennsylvania, and she campaigned aggressively in Indiana in hopes of denying Obama a victory next door to his home state of Illinois. Indiana is home to large numbers of blue-collar workers who have been attracted to the former first lady, and she sought to use her call for a federal gas tax holiday to draw them and other economically pinched voters closer.

Inevitably, the issue quickly took on larger dimensions.

Obama said it symbolized a candidacy consisting of "phony ideas, calculated to win elections instead of actually solving problems."

Clinton retorted, "Instead of attacking the problem, he's attacking my solutions," and ran an ad in the campaign's final hours that said she "gets it."

The balance of the primary schedule includes West Virginia, with 28 delegates on May 13; Oregon with 52 and Kentucky with 51 a week later; Puerto Rico with 55 delegates on June 1, and Montana with 16 and South Dakota with 15 on June 3.

Sen. McCain of Arizona, the Republican nomination already in hand, campaigned in North Carolina and assailed Obama for his vote against confirmation of Chief Justice John Roberts.

"Senator Obama in particular likes to talk up his background as a lecturer on law, and also as someone who can work across the aisle to get things done," McCain said. "But ... he went right along with the partisan crowd, and was among the 22 senators to vote against this highly qualified nominee."

Clinton also voted against Roberts, but McCain, as is often the case, focused his remarks on Obama.

Obama's campaign responded that the Republican would pick judges who represent a threat to abortion rights and to McCain's own legislation to limit the role of money in political campaigns.

INDIANAPOLIS The presidential race between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama drew so many voters that some precincts ran out of Democratic ballots.

More than 1.6 million votes were cast Tuesday in the Democratic and GOP presidential races with nearly all precincts reporting, according to unofficial tallies by The Associated Press. That smashed the 1992 primary turnout of just over 1 million voters.

A high number of Republican crossover votes sent several counties scrambling to print extra ballots. A judge ordered some polls in northwestern Indiana s Porter County to stay open an additional hour after several precincts ran out of Democratic ballots.

Other ballot shortages were reported in Howard, Jackson and Hancock counties as voters turned out in droves for the presidential race. Local voting officials printed substitute ballots that were to be counted by hand.

Nancy Zondor of Chesterton said she went to vote at her polling site about 4 p.m. only to be told she would have to wait or come back later for a Democratic ballot.

She said she had to leave without voting to drive to her son s track meet.

I was aggravated, for sure, it s a big election, said Zondor, who planned to vote for Obama. I just always vote in every election and want to.

The ballot shortages occurred as voters embraced Indiana s first meaningful presidential primary in 40 years. In counties across the state where most precincts were counted early, thousands more votes were cast than during the state s record primary turnout in 1992.

Carolyn Hurt of the voter registration office in southern Indiana s Jackson County said seven precincts requested additional Democratic ballots and that substitute ballots were available for all voters.

They called us when they were close to running out, Hurt said. We took out the copies that they have to count by hand.

Marion County, the state s most populous, had to print several thousand extra Democratic ballots because of increased demand in traditionally Republican voting areas, said Angie Nussmeyer, spokeswoman for the clerk s office.

Jeanne Tennyson, 44, a high school teacher in Evansville, voted for Clinton and had a different feeling for this election than in the past.

People in Indiana have not had any reason to be excited about a presidential campaign in a long time, she said. We always vote Republican.

Polling locations reported voter totals that far exceeded previous primaries. More than 80,000 people voted in Fort Wayne s Allen County and nearly 22,000 people voted in southern Indiana s Floyd County both double the 1992 turnout.

Some 70 percent of the presidential votes cast statewide were Democratic ballots, with even heavily Republican counties such as Johnson County in suburban Indianapolis having more than 60 percent of its votes in the Clinton-Obama race.

The heavy turnout followed a month of record absentee voting with 173,000 ballots cast in person or by mail through Monday, according to the Indiana secretary of state s office. That is more than three times the number of early ballots cast in the 2004 presidential primary.

About 76 percent of those seeking to vote absentee asked for Democratic ballots.

First-time and veteran voters said Indiana s significance in the Democratic choice for the presidential nominee compelled them to come out.

It s history making, said Eileen Turner after she cast her vote for Obama. I vote all the time anyway, but I couldn t miss this one, no way.

Andrew Baun, 18, a senior at Reitz High School in Evansville, said the unexpected importance of Indiana s primary and the polarized political landscape makes every vote important. His went for Obama.

I ve never before in my life been real political, but I just firmly feel that Obama is what s best for us right now, Baun said.

Shirley Grigsby, 36, had asked to come in late to work so she could take her mother to vote. She made that request in January.

Just to have some of the political pundits talk about my state, even mention it, that s neat, Grigsby said.

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