Indianapolis Barack Obama swept to a convincing victory in the North Carolina primary Tuesday night and declared he was closing in on the Democratic presidential nomination. Hillary Rodham Clinton eked out a win in Indiana as she struggled to halt her rival's march into history.
"Tonight we stand less than 200 delegates away from securing the Democratic nomination for president of the United States," Obama told a raucous rally in Raleigh, N.C. - and left no doubt he intended to claim the prize.
Clinton stepped before her own supporters not long afterward in Indianapolis. "Thanks to you, it's full speed on to the White House," she said, signaling her determination to fight on in a campaign already waged across more than 16 months and nearly all 50 states.
Returns from 99 percent of North Carolina precincts showed Obama winning 56 percent of the vote to 42 percent for Clinton, a triumph that mirrored his earlier wins in Southern states with large black populations.
That made Indiana a virtual must-win Midwestern contest for the former first lady, who had hoped to counter Obama's persistent delegate advantage with a strong run through the late primaries.
Returns from 99 percent of the precincts showed her with 51 percent to 49 percent for her rival, a margin of little more than 22,000 votes out of more than 1.2 million cast. The outcome wasn't clear for more than six hours after the polls closed, the uncertainty stemming from slow counting in Lake County near Obama's home city of Chicago.
Obama won at least 69 delegates and Clinton at least 63 in the two states combined, with 55 still to be awarded.
Voters in both states fell along racial lines long since established in a marathon race between the nation's strongest-ever black presidential candidate and its most formidable female challenger for the White House.
Obama was gaining more than 90 percent of the black vote in Indiana, while Clinton was winning an estimated 61 percent of the white vote there.
In North Carolina, Clinton won 60 percent of the white vote, while Obama claimed support from roughly 90 percent of the blacks who cast ballots.
Obama's delegate haul edged him closer to his prize - 1,815.5 to 1,672 for Clinton in The Associated Press count, out of 2,025 needed to win the nomination.
As he told his supporters, Obama was on pace to finish the night within 200 delegates of the total needed. There are 217 delegates at stake in the six primaries yet to come. Another 270 superdelegates remain uncommitted.