CBS first to declare primary outcome
While rivals say Indiana race is too close to callNEW YORK -- CBS News made a call early Tuesday night to give the Indiana primary to Sen. Hillary Clinton while its rivals waited, even beyond Sen. Barack Obama's apparent concession, to call the race even after midnight.
"It looks like it will be a very close race in Indiana," said CNN correspondent John King.
The race -- which more than one analyst reminded viewers was over one delegate -- spilled over after midnight ET as the results of one county remained fluid. By 12:30 a.m. ET, the margin had become by one estimate about 17,000 votes.
CBS News made its projection at 8:09 p.m., hours before the other networks were either comfortable or ready to say that Clinton had emerged victorious from the state. ABC, NBC, Fox and CNN spent the rest of the night saying it would take hours to call.
And that's just what it was. Even after Obama seemed to give up on the state, all but conceding to Clinton in his speech, and Clinton's willingness to accept victory, no one but CBS News would make the call.
It was, as NBC News anchor Brian Williams called it, a "preponderance of caution" that was keeping the networks from declaring that Clinton had hung on to win in Indiana despite an ever-declining margin as the night wore on.
"It's because of some mistakes that were made (in the past) but we try to observe a lot of caution ... I just thought that should have been pointed out," Williams said.
That meant that even when Obama seemed to say that Clinton had won, no one other than CBS said so officially.
"I'd like to congratulate Sen. Clinton on what appears to be her victory in the great state of Indiana," Obama said around 9:10 p.m. ET in a speech that was televised live on Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC.
Meanwhile through the 9 p.m. hour, while Obama spoke and Clinton prepared to speak, the New York senator's margin continued to shrink. MSNBC quoted an Obama campaign aide who said that the Indiana primary might go to Clinton with as little as 15,000 votes, or 1%.
The networks still continued to hedge their bets during Obama's speech, even while acknowledging that Obama had conceded.
"We're still not prepared to call Indiana," Fox News Channel's Brit Hume said after Obama's speech around 9:30 p.m. ET. "The margin was once 14% but as you can see from the screen it's now 4%."
Just before 9 p.m., NBC News political director Chuck Todd explained that the counties near the Illinois border and that encompass Indianapolis in the center of the state still hadn't been heard from. He said that there was the possibility that the results from those predominantly African American counties could make the race too close to call even though at the moment, Clinton had an 8 percentage point lead.
Fox News Channel, which has been aggressive and correct in its projections so far this season, also declined to call the race. Contributor Michael Barone told Hume around 9 p.m. ET that there were contradictory projections based on models for turnout.
"It's going to depend on Lake County in Northwest Indiana," Barone said. "We don't have any answers on how Lake County voted yet."
Hume later said that some of the crucial votes hadn't been counted yet and that Obama could make up the margin.
"We don't expect that but it's certainly possible," Hume said.
For its part, CNN's analysts questioned whether Tuesday's votes could justify Clinton continuing with her campaign.
"They're going to need a lot of money," said Gloria Borger. "It's hard to raise money if people don't think you can actually (win)." NBC News' Tim Russert said that the Clinton campaign wanted and needed an early win in Indiana and a close race in North Carolina.
"The dynamic now is the exact opposite," Russert said.
However, there was no question that Obama had carried North Carolina and by a wide margin. "CBS Evening News" anchor Katie Couric announced at 7:30 p.m. that it had projected North Carolina in Obama's column. Later, CBS News' Jeff Greenfield noted that at the end of the night, nothing had changed much.
"We are where we are, and we go on," Greenfield said.
Couric countered: "It feels like Groundhog Day."