Obama Inching Closer to Democratic Nod

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Late in the game, Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton are courting voters in Florida, a state so far shut out of their Democratic presidential race, after trading wins in a pair of primaries that brought Obama within sight of his party's nomination.

In results still being counted Wednesday, the Illinois senator was expected to climb within 60 of the 2,026 delegates needed to clinch the nomination, despite taking a thrashing from Clinton in the Kentucky primary. Obama answered by winning Oregon in Tuesday's other contest.

Both candidates were rallying Wednesday in Florida, where Clinton is pressing to have votes counted from a primary that was held in defiance of Democratic Party rules, just as she wants Michigan's renegade primary to count. Obama planned to spend several days in Florida, which will be a prime battleground in the fall campaign against Republican John McCain.

Democratic rule-makers meet at the end of this month to decide whether to count delegates from the two states. Clinton won both states but Obama had his name kept off the Michigan ballot and neither candidate campaigned in those states.

With 88 percent of the vote counted in Oregon, Obama was winning by a 58-42 percent margin. Clinton scored a 35-point win in Kentucky after trouncing him by 41 points in West Virginia last week.

Obama won Oregon with the support of men and young people, but also found plenty of votes from blue-collar workers who have the staple of Clinton victories in other states, according to surveys of voters. As a group, only those making less than $30,000 a year and those over 65 favored Clinton. Women were evenly divided between Obama and Clinton, but men voted for Obama 2-to-1.

Altogether, Obama scored a solid win in a heavily white state, a rare achievement in recent races in which blue-collar whites have powered his rival.

He also secured a majority of the pledged delegates won in primaries and caucuses across the country - a milestone that could help him persuade more superdelegates to endorse him. Superdelegates are party insiders who are not tied to the outcome of state contests.

"Tonight, in the fullness of spring, with the help of those who stood up from Portland to Louisville, we have returned to Iowa with a majority of delegates elected by the American people and you have put us within reach of the Democratic nomination for president of the United States of America," Obama said Tuesday evening at a rally in Des Moines, Iowa.

In Kentucky, Clinton won two-thirds of women and nearly as many men - altogether, seven in 10 whites, who made up nearly 90 percent of the electorate, exit polls indicated. Clinton prevailed among all age, income and education categories, with particularly large margins among lower-earning and less educated voters.

Obama and Clinton ran about even with independents, who were about one in 10 voters in Kentucky. He won a bare majority among those who most valued change as a candidate attribute, but about a quarter cited experience and Clinton won nearly all of them.

As he closes in on the Democratic prize, Obama has been concentrating his campaign more and more on McCain rather than on Clinton.

But Clinton insists she still sees a path to the prize by winning over superdelegates, whose support will be needed for either candidate to be clinch the nomination.

"Neither Senator Obama nor I will have reached that magic number when the voting ends on June 3," she said Tuesday night in Kentucky. "And so, our party will have a tough choice to make - who's ready to lead our party at the top of our ticket, who is ready to defeat Senator McCain in the swing states and among swing voters."

Clinton won at least 54 delegates in the delegates from Kentucky and Oregon and Obama won at least 39, according to an analysis of election returns by The Associated Press. All 51 delegates from Kentucky were awarded but there were still 10 of 52 to be allocated in Oregon.

Obama has an overall total of 1,956 delegates, including endorsements from superdelegates. Clinton has 1,776, including superdelegates, according the latest tally by the AP.

© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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