WASHINGTON Feb 5 Voters in 24 states make
their choices in an unpredictable U.S. presidential campaign on
Tuesday, with Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in a
close fight and Republican John McCain aiming for a knockout blow
against Mitt Romney.
On the biggest day of voting ever in a U.S. primary race,
candidates in both parties compete on "Super Tuesday" for a huge
haul of delegates to this summer's nominating conventions.
Clinton, a New York senator, tried to hold off a late surge
by Obama, an Illinois senator who has cut into her once commanding
leads in opinion polls nationally and in some states in the
More than half of the total Democratic delegates and about
40 percent of the Republican delegates are up for grabs on
Tuesday. Georgia is the first state to end voting at 7 p.m. EST
(2400 GMT), although West Virginia Republicans will make their
choices at a convention earlier in the day.
Opinion polls show a tight Democratic race in many states,
but a Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll showed Obama opening a 13-point
lead on Clinton in California, which alone has 441 delegates to
the nominating convention -- more than one-fifth of the total
needed to win.
Among Republicans, McCain had solid leads in most of the
big battleground states. But McCain, an Arizona senator, and
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, changed their plans so
they could make late dashes to California, where opinion polls
showed a tighter contest.
A new Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll showed Romney up by 7 points
in California, although McCain held commanding double-digit
advantages in New York and New Jersey.
Clinton and Obama, who had split the first four significant
contests, used Monday to hunt for support in delegate-rich
Northeast states. Both campaigns spent heavily on final
advertising sprees from coast to coast.
With the pair running close, aides tried to lower
expectations and predicted a lengthy Democratic battle extending
to Ohio and Texas in March and Pennsylvania in April.
Because Democrats distribute delegates in proportion to
their vote statewide and in individual congressional districts,
candidates can come away with large numbers of delegates even in
states they lose.
A LONG CONTEST
"The nominating rules of our party are really designed to
prolong a contest between two strong candidates," Clinton
spokesman Howard Wolfson said. "Many of us will be making our
reservations for Texas and Ohio and perhaps Pennsylvania and
Obama campaign manager David Plouffe cited Clinton's once
commanding leads in many of the 22 states holding Democratic
"We fully expect Senator Clinton to earn more delegates on
February 5th and also to win more states," he said in a memo to
reporters. If Obama wins a few and stays within 100 delegates of
Clinton on Tuesday, he said, "we will have met our threshold for
In contrast, many Republican contests are winner-take-all
when awarding delegates, meaning a strong day by McCain could
give him a commanding lead.
McCain said in Boston he hoped "to do well enough to
hopefully draw this process to a close, but if not we'll be
prepared to continue to go out and campaign."
The campaign battle flared again on Monday as McCain and
Romney questioned each other's conservative credentials. McCain
unveiled a new ad accusing Romney of running in Massachusetts
against former Republican President Ronald Reagan's record.
"Mitt Romney was against Ronald Reagan before he was for him,"
the ad's announcer said.
Romney has tried to take advantage of conservative qualms
about McCain's views on taxes, immigration and campaign finance
reform. He unveiled his own ad saying McCain agreed with
Hillary Clinton on topics like immigration, taxes and
"Don't we need a leader who agrees with conservatives?" the
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won the first
contest in Iowa, also remains in the Republican race, and has
siphoned conservative votes from Romney in some contests. He is
aiming for a strong showing in the South.
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Claudia Parsons, Steve
Holland; Editing by Patricia Zengerle)
(For more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters
"Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at