Hirsh: Barack Obama, Frontrunner

Here's Newsweek's Michael Hirsh with his take on yesterday's results. I'll be back later this morning with some expert analysis--courtesy of Charles Franklin of Pollster.com and the University of Wisconsin--that looks forward to the coming Democratic contests in Ohio and Texas.

Wisconsin, a state hitherto best known for beer, cheese and the Green Bay Packers, may earn a place in history as the primary that finally tilted the race for the 2008 Democratic nomination to Barack Obama. In a decisive victory that showed just how dramatically Obama has cut into Hillary Clinton's once-strong support among whites, women and blue-collar workers, the Illinois senator on Tuesday defeated his rival from New York 58 percent to 41 percent.

John McCain, meanwhile, drew within a breath of the Republican nomination, defeating lone rival Mike Huckabee by 55 percent to 37 percent. Huckabee has proved unable to garner much support outside the South, traditional stronghold of his fellow evangelicals, but the former Arkansas governor has resisted bowing out of the race until McCain actually reaches the required 1,191 delegates needed for nomination.

Obama, in an impromptu speech while campaigning in Texas, told a roaring crowd: "Houston, I think we've achieved liftoff here." As he has increasingly done in recent weeks while racking up nine straight primary victories-including Wisconsin -Obama all but claimed the nomination, referring to the "improbable journey" he began a year ago and saying his "bet has paid off." Obama also attuned his message to the general election contest against McCain and sounded his now-trademark call for "change." Because McCain endorses George W. Bush's economic policies and his war in Iraq, Obama said, the 71-year-old Arizona senator "represents the policies of yesterday and we want to be the party of tomorrow, and I'm looking forward to having that debate with John McCain."

Obama also continued to register a certain defensiveness against his rivals' attacks on his relative youth and inexperience. "A year ago ... there were those who said why are you running so soon ... You can afford to wait," he said. "I had to explain to them, I'm not running because of some long-held ambition. ...  I'm running because of what Dr. King called 'the fierce urgency of now.'" Whether the issue was Iraq, global warming or the economy, he said, "we cannot wait."

While major primaries remain in Texas and Ohioon March 4, Wisconsin was seen as test case of whether Obama could make inroads into Clinton's strongest areas of electoral strength, workers and women. He also won in a mostly white state, decisively capturing the caucasian male vote and belying a perception that he has been carried in previous primaries by the African-American electorate.