Politics & Government

Clinton claimed Indiana victory before results were clear

INDIANAPOLIS — Sen. Hillary Clinton declared herself the winner of Tuesday's Indiana Democratic presidential primary even though late returns left the race too close to call when she spoke.

Hours after Sen. Barack Obama, her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, celebrated his convincing win of North Carolina's primary, Clinton, D-N.Y., told supporters at a ballroom here that she had defied the odds and won the Hoosier State.

"Tonight, we come from behind," Clinton said, noting that Obama had predicted that she would win Pennsylvania, he would win North Carolina and that Indiana would be the tiebreaker. "We've broken the tie, and thanks to you, it's full speed on to the White House."

As Clinton spoke, television networks said that the Indiana contest was too close to call; her victory was not declared by TV networks until after 1 a.m. EDT. Still, with former President Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea behind her, Clinton spoke of beating Obama in a state neighboring his home of Illinois despite being outspent and behind in early polls.

The Clinton campaign began the evening looking for a decisive win in Indiana and hoping for a moral victory in North Carolina by at least holding Obama's margin of victory to single digits.

When the North Carolina totals came in showing Obama cruising to a double-digit victory, the mood at Clinton's campaign headquarters here changed from festive to anxious. While Obama delivered his victory speech in Raleigh, N.C., Gloria Estefan's "Get on Your Feet" blared over loudspeakers in the Clinton ballroom to keep the crowd that had come expecting to party pumped up.

Obama's strong Indiana showing apparently caught even him by surprise — he conceded the Hoosier State to Clinton in his North Carolina victory address.

Clinton started primary day signaling her intention to stay in the race through the Democratic National Convention, using a visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as metaphor.

"We need to get on the track in America and move towards the finish line," she said during a Brickyard visit with Indy car driver Sarah Fisher.

Standing in front of Fisher's sleek blue and white racer, Clinton pushed a new math formula that would increase the number of delegates needed to win the Democratic presidential nomination. Clinton said it will take 2,209 delegates — not the generally accepted 2,025 figure — to win the Democratic nomination.

She said she could be within striking distance with victories in upcoming primaries and if the party moves to seat Michigan and Florida delegates, who were banned from the convention after those states violated party rules by moving up the dates of their presidential primaries.

"They were legitimate elections," Clinton said. "People came out and voted. If you count them, I'm ahead in the number of people who voted. It's a close delegate race. It's a close vote total, and we're going to have to figure out how we fulfill the wishes of the voters in those two important states."