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Analysis: Clinton scores a win, Obama nears finish line

  • Story Highlights
  • Obama claims symbolic victory by gaining majority of pledged delegates
  • Despite daunting odds, Clinton says she's staying in race
  • Kentucky results send warning to Democratic frontrunner of challenges ahead
  • Oregon and Kentucky results illustrate difference in Democratic voters
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By Alan Silverleib and Mark Preston
CNN Washington Bureau
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Hillary Clinton won a landslide victory in Kentucky Tuesday, but momentum -- and a growing sense of inevitability -- is now firmly on Barack Obama's side.

He took Oregon last night, but it was his symbolic victory with pledged delegates that was the storyline.

The one-time long shot for the Democratic nomination has a majority of pledged delegates to the Democratic Convention and is now about 70 delegates shy of the finish line.

Obama had already been looking toward November before last night's split decision. He chose Iowa -- the site of his first win in this marathon primary fight -- to address supporters in what many observers viewed as a victory lap. It was also an indication of Obama's intent to fight for a number of battleground states lost by John Kerry in 2004.

"The skeptics predicted we wouldn't get very far," Obama said. "The cynics dismissed us as a lot of hype and a little too much hope. And by the fall, the pundits in Washington had all but counted us out. But the people of Iowa had a different idea."

Despite the daunting odds of overtaking Obama in the overall delegate count, Clinton remained defiant and promised to stay in the race.

"You've never given up on me, because you know I've never given up on you," Clinton told supporters in Kentucky.

Clinton's victory in Kentucky -- as in West Virginia last week -- was noticeable for its magnitude and breadth. As expected, she dominated Obama in a largely white, working-class state tailor-made for her increasingly populist message. Once again, she won both men and women. She carried every age group. She captured the bulk of voters in every income category, and at every level of educational achievement.

Kentucky voters also fired a warning shot across the bow of an Obama campaign that has largely turned its sights to the fall election.

Only one-third of Clinton's voters in the Bluegrass State said they would vote for Obama in a general election matchup against presumptive Republican nominee John McCain. Almost 80 percent of Clinton's voters said they would not be satisfied if Obama wins the Democratic nomination. A majority of voters statewide believed Obama is not honest and trustworthy, and that he does not share their values. Video Watch what the analysts say after Kentucky and Oregon »

No Democrat has won the White House without carrying Kentucky since John F. Kennedy narrowly defeated Richard Nixon in 1960.

Obama either has to find a way to convince these voters to support him or he needs to redraw the electoral map in November by carrying states such as Colorado, North Carolina and Virginia -- states which rarely vote Democrat on the presidential level.

Obama's favorable numbers in Oregon, on the other hand, reflected his strength with more-affluent, well-educated, secular voters in another critical region.

He defeated Clinton by an almost 2-1margin among men in Oregon. Perhaps more impressively, he drew her to a tie (at 50 percent each) among white women -- long considered to be one of the New York senator's core constituencies.

Oregon's largely progressive political tradition proved to be a boon to the Democratic frontrunner. Self-described liberals, comprising 57 percent of the state's electorate, backed Obama by 20 points, 60-40 percent. At the same time, however, he also managed to carry moderates and conservatives, albeit by much smaller margins.

Nearly four out of five Oregon primary voters were college educated, and they voted for Obama by more than 20 points, 61-39 percent. The smaller pool of non-college educated voters backed Clinton by nine points, 54-45 percent. Obama, however, surprised many observers by pulling nearly even with Clinton (48-51 percent) among white voters who did not graduate from college -- a group which has been largely unreceptive to his campaign in other parts of the country.

Finally, Obama benefited from the votes of the nearly 3 in 10 Oregon voters with no religious identification. While Protestants and Catholics split virtually evenly between the two Democratic candidates, voters who cited no religious affiliation backed the Illinois senator by 22 points, 61-39 percent.

The campaign now shifts to Florida -- a pivotal general election battleground whose delegates to the Democratic convention remain in a state of flux. Clinton and Obama have campaign stops scheduled Wednesday across the state.

Clinton, who desperately needs to have both the Florida and Michigan delegations seated in accordance with their January primary results, is demanding a resolution. Meanwhile, Obama says he is in favor of seating the disputed delegations, but needless to say does not agree with Clinton's proposed remedy.

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The Democratic National Committee will address the delegation disputes when it meets on May 31 in Washington.

But with only two weeks and three contests remaining, Clinton's window of opportunity is quickly closing. Her fate -- as well as Obama's -- now rests with the dwindling pool of uncommitted superdelegates who will ultimately choose the party's nominee.

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