Obama wins big in the Potomac primaries by taking a bite out of Clinton's base of support.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Feb. 13 2008 6:14 AM

A Clean Sweep

All the papers lead with yesterday's primaries in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia, where Sen. Barack Obama got three more big victories. As the Wall Street Journal highlights early in its story, Obama had been largely expected to win the so-called Potomac primaries, "but he triumphed by landslide margins." The New York Timessays yesterday's contests gave the senator from Illinois the opportunity "to assert that the Democratic race, which had seemed to be heading into a protracted standoff, is beginning to break in his direction." The Washington Postsays Obama "had his most impressive night of the competition" mainly because of the "breadth of support he attracted from men and women, young voters and old, African Americans and whites." The Los Angeles Timesis the most direct and calls Obama "the front-runner."

On the Republican side, Sen. John McCain also won all three contests, but, as USA Today highlights, "a closer-than-expected race in Virginia underscored the problems he faces in uniting the GOP even after becoming the party's presumptive nominee." Mike Huckabee benefitted from a strong turnout by evangelical Christians and got most of his support from Virginians who identified themselves as conservatives. Yesterday, McCain commended Huckabee and said, "He certainly keeps things interesting—maybe a little too interesting at times tonight, I must confess." But after thanking voters, McCain turned his attention to the Democratic contenders and said, "We know where either of their candidates will lead this country, and we dare not let them."

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The WP has a separate front-page analysis looking at how yesterday's contests raised the question of whether Clinton's "coalition is beginning to crack." In an analysis in its inside pages, the NYT says it's particularly important that in both Virginia and Maryland Obama got more support among women voters  than Clinton. But more than that, he also won among other types of voters who were once considered reliable Clinton supporters, including those earning less than $50,000, union members, and rural voters. "Certainly he broadened his coalition," a Democratic pollster said. "The question is whether that's a one-state phenomenon or a broader phenomenon, because it definitely changes the landscape."

Clinton's campaign is expecting two more losses Tuesday in Hawaii and Wisconsin, which would give Obama a 10-0 post-Super Tuesday winning streak before Ohio and Texas vote on March 4. How big of a momentum Obama will receive from these wins is really not clear since previous victories haven't been a good marker for future contests in this election cycle. Yesterday, Clinton held a rally in Texas in a sign of just how important winning that contest has become for the former first lady. For his part, Obama sounded almost as if "the primaries were behind him" ( NYT) and turned his attention to McCain, describing him as "an American hero" while emphasizing that "his priorities don't address the real problems of the American people."

In his victory speech, McCain also included a not-so-subtle dig at Obama. "To encourage a country with only rhetoric rather than sound and proven ideas that trust in the strength and courage of free people is not a promise of hope," he said. "It is a platitude."

The NYT, LAT, and WP front news that the Senate approved a measure that would expand the government's domestic surveillance powers and give immunity to telecommunications companies that cooperated with President Bush's spying efforts. It was a huge victory for the White House, particularly since the 68-29 vote showed that support for the measure was larger than expected. The NYT says it was a "broader proxy vote in support of Mr. Bush's wiretapping program." Last year the House passed a similar bill that didn't include the immunity provision, and everyone predicts there will be a clash this week as lawmakers try to reconcile their differences before the existing eavesdropping powers expire on Friday. Bush has threatened to veto any attempt to pass more temporary legislation as well as any bill that doesn't include the immunity provision.

The WP goes inside with a look at the recent efforts by the Bush administration to argue that the water-boarding of high-level al-Qaida detainees was perfectly legal. Although it's clearly part of an effort to ensure that CIA interrogators aren't prosecuted for their actions, the Post adds two and two together and suggests it's also an attempt to pre-empt expected challenges about interrogation methods in the upcoming military trials of the six Guantanamo detainees. The recent public statements about the highly controversial interrogation technique came as a surprise since the administration had previously been reluctant to publicly discuss the matter.

In a separate piece inside, the WP takes a look at how some of the civilian lawyers who are representing Guantanamo detainees contend that Pentagon regulations "are so onerous that they will be unable to provide a fair and adequate defense of their clients." It's still not clear who will represent five of the six Guantanamo detainees who are accused of conspiring to commit the Sept. 11 attacks and were once held in CIA secret prisons. The Pentagon had said the American Bar Association would help with arranging representation, but it has refused to participate because it objects to the military tribunal procedures. Yesterday, the chief defense lawyer for military commissions once again emphasized it will be a while before the trials get started since "it could take months and months to just go over the classified information."

The NYT says inside that the House could vote "as early as Thursday" to hold Joshua Bolten, White House chief of staff, and Harriet Miers, former White House counsel, in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify about the U.S. attorneys controversy.

In an op-ed piece in the WP, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates repeat the administration's view that the upcoming negotiations over the "status of forces" agreement in Iraq will not "tie the hands of the next commander in chief." While they vow to work with "the appropriate committees of Congress to keep lawmakers informed," they also contend that, "consistent with well-established practice," the agreement won't require Senate approval.