March 4: "Critical Tuesday"

The night started out with Vermont being crazy. Not crazy because they went for frontrunners Barack Obama and John McCain, in sizeable fashion (Obama carried white voters, male voters and even female voters by smart margins), but because they voted to arrest Bush and Cheney, 2,012 to 1,795. If that terrible twosome ever venture into Brattleboro County on the southern corner of the state, they could be arrested for their Oval Office crimes. Vermont remains the only state that Bush has not visited during his presidency; I wonder why.

That's the kind of night it was. Democrats full of fight. Against Bush and Cheney, against the GOP, against fellow candidates, against a possible McCain presidency, against the march of time in campaigns they clearly don't want to end.

Weather and ballot shortages in Sandusky County and “voting irregularities” (read-terminal insanity) in Cuyahoga Counties delayed results in Ohio, as that state once again made its case to upend Florida as the one most unworthy of democratic rights.

The GOP race ends

7 p.m.: After a campaign that saw him take out a life insurance policy on himself to fund his struggling run, John McCain wins the Republican nomination as Texas is called. He outlasted The Mormon, The Mayor and The Minister, overcoming his churlish independent streak with party hardliners and winning moderates across the country. The Republican National Committee and eye-liner retailers breathe signs of relief, as the RNC can now focus its energy on the Minneapolis/St. Paul convention and November’s showdown while retailers can look forward to many more public appearances by Cindy McCain.

7:17 p.m.: First indications that Mike Huckabee will drop out of the race immediately. He doesn't waste any time, heading down to his supporters in Texas and standing with his wife in front of a digital flag, waving o'er the land. “Tonight I hope that our battle was never about us, it was about our country and our liberty…not for who gets elected, but for what we do when we get elected,” he says. In his speech he mentions a woman who sold her wedding ring on eBay and gave that money to the campaign and somebody who knew someone in a wheelchair who gave him money. He segues seamlessly to Bible verses, jokes about how financially destitute his campaign was, and finally the sacrifice of those brave patriots at the Alamo. A quote from William B. Travis ends with “victory or death,” which, given his circumstances, might have been a good omit. He ends by saying he'll fully support McCain's bid, but there’s no word on whether John’s reaching across the aisle disqualifies him for entry in Huck's kingdom of heaven.

7:22 p.m.: After 11 straight losses, Hillary Clinton takes a baby step back into the winners’ circle, projected to carry petite Rhode Island.

7:48 p.m.: McCain takes the stage in Dallas as the Republican nominee of the known universe, ascending to the podium to blaring “Eye of the Tiger.” He’s just a man with the will to survive, we are reminded. "Our campaign and my election as president, given the alternatives presented by our friends in the other party, are in the best interests of the country we love," he says. The Democrats are his friends. Everyone is John McCain’s friend. He’s like Fred Rogers, had Fred ever broadcasted King Friday’s edicts from the Hanoi Hilton, blinking that puppet’s eyes in Morse code with secret messages.

McCain’s theme for the night is the future. He constantly says that leaders “make history,” and don’t live in it. This is a future-looking election, he says, not a search for nostalgia of the past. Past=bad, future=good. Interesting statements for a man whose party has occupied the White House for the past seven years.

McCain really gets going when talking about the FIGHT ahead. “So stand up with me. Stand up and fight for America,” he says, growling a bit so it sounds like Americerrr. His eyes gleam with each FIGHT as he leans into the microphone. Republican Party, meet John McCain. The man’s a fighter. It’s the eye of the tiger, it’s the thrill of the fight. McCain exits to his trademark “Johnny B Goode,” about a man who apparently never ever learned to read and write so well, whoa whoa. But isn’t that the past?

And then there were two

Ohio Democratic results trickle in with ungodly lethargy. It becomes increasingly clear that Obama’s going to need to squeeze blood from his strongholds in Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Montgomery County. Hillary’s turned the rest of the map her shade of light, girly blue and stomps Obama 64-34 around Youngstown, the critical blue-collar battleground. 9:16 p.m.: Hillary takes the Columbus stage, replacing her toolkit forced smile with a genuinely happy one. What a strange campaign it’s been where Ohio governor Ted Strickland can legitimately call Clinton the “comeback kid.” The ultimate insider is now that scrappy kid trying to make good. She references many times the fact that Ohio holds sway in both parties as a bellwether of the national election, that it has picked the presidential winner since 1964, that no Democrats have won the presidency without winning the Ohio primary. “Ohio is coming back and so is this campaign,” she says. She closes her speech with references to multiple citizen-angels, supporters so divine they can’t even be named. A single mother providing for her family, an ex-Marine needing medical care, a mother with two little girls who are supporting Hillary because, the mom says, “I want them to know that anything is possible.” HRC responds, to them and us, “Tonight I say to them, keep on watching, together we’re going to make history.”

She finishes her speech just as the tally in Texas levels at 49-49.

9:38 p.m.: Obama saddles up to the microphone in San Antonio, commending Clinton for her wins and noting the closeness of the Texas race. Hoping to diffuse any HRC momentum, Obama makes quite plain that his campaign believes that regardless of the night’s outcomes, the delegate count will remain much the same. As such, most of his speech references McCain, a continuation of his rhetoric from days before, as he looks ahead to the general election and beyond HRC’s speedbumps in Rhode Island and Ohio.

About ten minutes in, Hillary’s up 50-48 in Texas.

Obama also counters Hillary’s nameless campaign angels with his own: a college student who gets three hours of sleep after working a full shift after class to pay her sister’s medical bills, an elderly woman who sent him a money order for $3.01 and a scripture verse and an 81-year-old Ugandan man, father of a campaign staffer, who once was “literally hunted” by Idi Amin and now stayed up until 5 a.m. to watch the returns of the Iowa caucuses.

Obama bids his supporters goodnight.

10:37 p.m.: Clinton’s up 52,000 votes in Texas with 66 percent t of the vote in. 57 percent of the voters thus far are women, something that bodes well even though Houston and Dallas still have over half their results yet to go.

10:55 p.m.: Clinton is projected to take the Texas primary. She’s up 51-48 with counting still to go in Dallas and Houston, but also in El Paso, where she holds a 69-29 edge and 30,000 vote lead. Obama seems to have run out of steam in his strong urban sectors and Hillary’s kept it close in Houston’s massive Harris County, 43-57.

So what tilted Texas?

The state went down electoral lines almost exactly as the both campaigns had predicted. Clinton dominated the mostly Latino, mostly rural areas -- carrying Hidalgo (72-26), Cameron (68-30), Nueces (66-33) and El Paso by sizeable margins. Obama gathered huge margins around Austin (63-37) and Dallas (62-38). Early voting numbers that suggested considerably bigger increases in voter turnout in urban areas over rural areas were correct, though the overall picture of the exit polls tended towards Clinton country: Obama’s much-touted influence amongst younger voters yielded only 16 percent of the total electorate, while voters over 45 accounted for 56 percent of the ballots cast.

The Latino vote formed a solid bloc along the southern and western edges of the state (HRC carried every age range and both men and women). Obama carried the black vote by 83 percent, but it wasn’t enough to stem the tide of 56 percent of the white vote and 67 percent of the Latino vote, which, as advertised, made up roughly a third of the electorate.

But lost in all the discussions of the African-American, Latino and young voters, the biggest story of the night may be the long-since-overlooked resurgence of the middle-aged and elderly Democratic voters, who went to Clinton in droves. Early exit polls suggest Clinton substantively carried the over 45s and particularly older white voters, where Obama had been making inroads in previous contests, by at least 60 percent.

In maybe the most telling numbers of the night, one that may bode poorly for the party in the long run, of the roughly one-in-five voters who said they made their decision in the last three days, 61 percent chose Clinton. HRC’s caustic attacks on Obama, including her “red phone” TV ad criticizing his lack of foreign policy experience, have generally been considered effective but divisive in advance of a national campaign for either candidate. HRC’s wins tonight could convince her that a continued frontal assault on Obama may be the only way to win.

As to the delegate count, it may be several days before we know who-won-whom. Texas’s caucus results have yet to come in. As Texas distributes delegates based on how the 31 state senatorial districts voted in the 2004 and 2006 elections, Obama’s leads in the urban areas will translate to more delegates than Clinton’s wins down south and west (compare Austin’s eight to rural Brownsville’s three). Since George Bush carried a sizeable portion of the Latino vote away from Dems in ’04 while urban African-Americans voted strongly for both John Kerry in ’04 and gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell in ’06, Dallas, Houston and Austin now carry significant delegate weight in the state.

So the stakes keep getting higher. A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted shortly before Tuesday asked voters if Hillary should withdraw if she only carried one of the big two states. Two out of three said no. If she lost both, however, the number jumps to 51 percent who say she should go. Now with two wins in two major contests, Hillary’s defied death once again, and Obama might have to tone down his posturing with John McCain.

After all, Wyoming’s Democratic primary is next up on Saturday, and there’s no telling how those eight are going to vote. – Joe Horton

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