LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Democratic presidential rivals Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama took their neck-and-neck battle to the U.S. West on Saturday while John McCain projected an air of inevitability about winning the Republican nomination ahead of crucial Super Tuesday voting.
Candidates criss-crossed the country to woo voters in the countdown toward the multi-state primaries and caucuses on February 5 that will go a long way toward establishing clear front-runners in both political parties.
Campaigning in Nashville, Tennessee, McCain told supporters he did not want to appear overconfident but was “guardedly optimistic” about Tuesday’s voting.
“I assume I will be the nominee of the party,” he said.
Later in Birmingham, Alabama, he said, “We sense some good momentum and we’re going to be working hard between now and Tuesday.”
Asked if he was concerned that some conservatives oppose him, McCain said he had won Florida’s primary when only registered Republicans could vote.
“Most of all I can unite the party,” he said. “I’m the most electable — any poll will show you that — against Sen. Obama and Sen. Clinton.”
Leading in the polls in major states to vote on Tuesday like California, New York and New Jersey, the Arizona senator was stopping in the capitals of Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia to argue his case.
McCain was sufficiently assured of his advantage over Romney to announce he will campaign on Monday in Romney’s home state of Massachusetts.
Meanwhile, Romney detoured from the campaign trail on Saturday to attend the funeral of Mormon church leader Gordon Hinckley in Salt Lake City. If elected, the former Massachusetts governor would be the first Mormon president.
Clinton, a New York senator who would be the first woman president, appeared at a rally at the California State University campus in East Los Angeles, where she was joined on stage by actors Sally Field and Ted Danson and former basketball star Magic Johnson.
“We have three days left to reach as many voters as possible,” she said.
Clinton talked about how America needs a leader who is inspirational and can bring about change, a theme she often strikes to imply that Obama may be inspirational but lacks experience and substance.
Clinton was on her way to events in Tucson, Arizona, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, before overnighting in St Louis.
Obama, who would be the first black president, campaigned in Boise, Idaho, a state that traditionally votes Republican and rarely sees a Democratic candidate.
Appearing in support of Obama at a rally in San Francisco, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry told a crowd of mostly young supporters that he saw Obama as an agent for change.
“I like Hillary,” Kerry, who lost the 2004 presidential election to incumbent George W. Bush, said at the event at a middle school. “I think she’s a very capable and wonderful public person. But in Barack Obama ... what I see, and others see, is an ability to break away from this politics of the past.”
Clinton and Obama, an Illinois senator, are locked in a neck-and-neck battle to represent the Democratic Party in the November 2008 election. The pair split the first four significant nominating contests, with Obama winning Iowa and South Carolina and Clinton winning New Hampshire and Nevada.
No presidential candidate will clinch the Democratic or Republican nomination on Super Tuesday when 24 states hold primaries or caucuses.
Democrats distribute delegates among candidates in proportion to their vote statewide and in individual congressional districts. Those who lose a state can still come away with a big chunk of delegates.
As a result, neither Clinton nor Obama is likely to land a knockout punch but one could emerge with a substantial lead in delegates.
In the Republican contest, 13 Super Tuesday states award all of their delegates to the winner. That gives McCain an opportunity to extend his lead over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and win over conservatives who remain skeptical of his stance on taxes and the environment.
Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Philipp Gollner and Claudia Parsons; Writing by Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Bill Trott