Politics & Government

Clinton wins easily in Puerto Rico, but Obama unshaken

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., shakes hands as she walks on stage during her primary day celebration in San Juan, Puerto Rico on Sunday.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., shakes hands as she walks on stage during her primary day celebration in San Juan, Puerto Rico on Sunday. Elise Amendola / AP

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Hillary Clinton coasted to victory Sunday in Puerto Rico's presidential primary, a win she hoped would give her a desperately needed boost — but probably would not.

The New York senator was beating Barack Obama by 68 to 32 percent, with 76 percent of precincts reporting, and told supporters the results were fresh, strong evidence that she should be the party’s nominee.

Obama, though, was still was seen as picking up enough delegates to inch closer to the number needed for nomination.

Obama late Sunday had an estimated 2,068 delegates to Clinton's 1,905, with 2,118 needed to nominate after Saturday's raucous party rules committee decision to give Michigan and Florida’s delegates a half-vote each.

But, Clinton argued in a terse speech to Puerto Rico backers, &quot:We are winning the popular vote…It's important where we have won." She reeled off the big, swing states where she won primaries this winter and spring, and appealed to super-delegates to recognize her victories.

"Which candidate is best able to lead us to victory in November?" she asked. The remaining uncommitted super-delegates, party insiders not bound to any state’s results, are expected to give Obama the majority he needs, probably later this week.

Clinton's camp was still seething over Saturday's disputed ruling that Michigan and Florida could seat half their delegates, a decision considered a blow to the senator. They would not rule out further challenges this summer.

Clinton won both states, whose January primaries defied party rules. Obama, like most other major candidates, took his name off the Michigan ballot and neither he nor Clinton campaigned in Florida.

Obama's remarks Sunday skirted any lingering controversy over the nomination fight, and instead had the ring of a general election pitch.

Without saying he’s the frontrunner or making any predictions about his nomination prospects, Obama offered warm praise for Clinton, calling her a "great asset when we go into November….Whatever differences Sen. Clinton and I may have, those differences pale in comparison to the other side."

Clinton and Obama are close in popular primary votes, and the exact count depends on how one tallies the results.

Clinton made it clear that her claim about that vote will be the cornerstone of her argument in the primary season's final hours. Her campaign unveiled a new television ad that makes that point. It’s scheduled to the year’s final two primary states, Montana and South Dakota, which hold their contests Tuesday.

Obama's advisers strongly suggested the end of the nomination contest was near. Communications Director Robert Gibbs predicted on ABC's "This Week" that "sometime this week, we'll probably have a nominee for the Democratic party."

He would not say whether Obama would have enough votes to claim the nomination Tuesday, though. "As soon as we know, we'll certainly let others know it," Gibbs said. "If not Tuesday, I think it will be fairly soon." A total of 55 delegates were at stake in Puerto Rico with 31 more to be decided Tuesday.

Puerto Rico's residents cannot vote for president in November, but primary voters Sunday did offer Obama a cautionary note. He has had difficulty throughout the primary and caucus season attracting big blocs of Latino voters, and continued to do so Sunday.

Clinton rolled up a victory in every age and income group Sunday. Exit polls showed her winning 70-30 among both men and women and by similar margins among virtually every income group.

She got a boost from her husband, as some 83 percent of voters said they had a favorable impression of Bill Clinton — and 78 percent voted for his wife.

Hillary Clinton waged a spirited campaign on the island; she and her family spent 15 days campaigning here. She campaigned till the end, visiting a restaurant Sunday morning. Clinton has said throughout the campaign that she was "the senator from Puerto Rico," because her New York constituency has a large Puerto Rican population.

The exit polls found that 78 percent of those surveyed had family members living in New York — and they voted for Clinton by a nearly 3 to 1 margin.

Obama barely campaigned here; he spent Sunday in South Dakota, starting the day at a pancake breakfast with veterans in Sioux Falls.

To get his three pancakes, he agreed to hold a Styrofoam plate and catch pancakes flipped his way. He was asked by reporters about Puerto Rico, but ignored the question.

Obama spent just one day campaigning in Puerto Rico, visiting with veterans outside San Juan and participating in a candidate walk and parade in Old San Juan.

He did have the endorsement of Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila, but that may not have been a huge boost — the governor has been indicted on corruption charges.

Only one-third of voters said they had a favorable opinion of the governor, and Obama only won them by a 52 to 48 percent majority.

(Douglas reported from Puerto Rico, Talev from South Dakota and Lightman from Washington)

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