RICHMOND, Virginia (CNN) - On a night when Barack Obama scored a trio of dominant wins in Nebraska, Washington and Louisiana, Obama and rival Hillary Clinton were already looking ahead to the next big electoral prize up for grabs: Virginia.
Both candidates tipped their hats to the state’s Democratic brass on Saturday night by jetting into Richmond for the Virginia Democratic Party’s annual Jefferson Jackson fundraising dinner.
There are 63 pledged delegates at stake here on Tuesday, when Maryland (37 delegates) and the District of Columbia (19 delegates) will also vote.
Buoyed by his wins, Obama emphasized to the audience at the Siegel Center in downtown Richmond that he is the most electable Democrat in the race.
“We’ve done better with independents in almost every single contest we’ve had,” he said to the largely pro-Obama audience. “It’s because we’ve won in more red states and swing states that the next Democratic nominee needs to win in November.”
“If I am your nominee,” he said and added, “This is one Democrat who plans to campaign in Virginia and win in Virginia this fall.”
A few yards from the stage, a quintet of defiant Clinton supporters stood during Obama’s entire speech holding up Hillary signs.
Clinton, arriving after a day of campaigning in Maine before the caucuses there Sunday, spoke earlier in the evening. The arena floor was packed tight with state Democratic donors and other supporters in suits and evening gowns. Most seemed to be gearing up for Obama’s speech later in the night, and the stadium seats and bleachers ringing the venue, open to anyone buying a ticket, were also jammed with young Obama supporters.
Her remarks were built around the economic themes that have characterized her recent stump speeches on the trail. On Friday, she launched a pair of television ads in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. that focus on jobs, education and the mortgage crisis.
“I am so ready to see Virginia in the winning Democratic column in November,” Clinton told the audience. She also thanked them “for sending Jim Webb to the Senate” in 2006. Webb upset incumbent GOP Sen. George Allen in a tight race that year.
Clinton peppered her speech with nods to Virginia’s racial history, quoting Harriet Tubman and making sure to note that, “Virginia was the first state in America to elect an African-American governor.”
That governor is Doug Wilder, now the mayor of Richmond and a prominent Obama backer. He spoke immediately before Clinton and said it would be “impolitic and impolite” to shill for Obama from the dais, but he then drew loud applause by plugging Obama before he finished his remarks.
Earlier in the evening, Wilder said he remained irked by former President Bill Clinton’s criticisms of Obama during the South Carolina primary.
“Barack Obama is not a fairy tale,” Wilder told reporters at a press conference. “He is real, the real deal as some would say. He is not just a good speaker. Jesse Jackson is Jesse Jackson. Barack Obama is Barack Obama.”
The buzz in the building on Saturday night was emblematic of the state’s Democratic resurgence in recent years: following the popular tenure of former Gov. Mark Warner. His protégé Tim Kaine won the governorship in 2005 and Webb then upset Allen the following year to shift the balance of power in the Senate away from the GOP.
The winning streak, combined with the unexpected national spotlight now shining on Virginia in this protracted Democratic primary race, gave energized locals hope that the increasingly-purple state will be in play come November.
“Virginia Democrats are on a roll,” Kaine proclaimed as he introduced Obama. Kaine is a national co-chair of Obama’s campaign and was one of the first Democrats outside of Illinois to endorse Obama last year.
Earlier in the night, Kaine spoke to reporters along with Wilder and Warner, now a candidate for John Warner’s soon-to-be vacated Senate seat.
He said he believed Clinton had a chance to win Virginia in November, but that she has “a steeper hill to climb than Sen. Obama.”
“I believe by far he is the more electable candidate in Virginia and nationally,” Kaine said, arguing that Obama has a better chance to attract independents and disaffected Republicans in the state than Clinton.
Related video: Watch a clip of Sen. Clinton's speech Saturday night.
- CNN Political Producer Peter Hamby