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White House race enters new national phase

MANCHESTER, N.H. (Reuters) - The unpredictable fight for the White House went national on Wednesday as candidates fanned out across the United States and Democrat Barack Obama bounced back from a surprise loss to Hillary Clinton to grab a coveted union endorsement.

Clinton's narrow upset of Obama in New Hampshire on Tuesday set up a tough and possibly lengthy Democratic nominating battle that heads to Nevada and South Carolina and on to Feb. 5 "Super Tuesday" contests in 22 states.

U.S. Democratic Party presidential candidate Barack Obama (D-IL) campaigns at Saint Peter's College in Jersey City, New Jersey, January 9, 2008. (REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)

Republican John McCain soared into the next Republican battleground of Michigan with fresh momentum from his New Hampshire win, hoping to score a knockout punch on Tuesday against rival Mitt Romney.

The state-by-state race to pick candidates for the November election to succeed President George W. Bush shifted from the intimate, face-to-face politics of Iowa and New Hampshire to a wider national campaign driven by big-money television ads and cross-country plane trips.

Obama, the Illinois senator seeking to become the first black U.S. president, won the backing of the Culinary Workers Union in Nevada, a major force in a state that holds the next Democratic contest on Jan. 19. The union's 60,000 members, many of them Hispanic, service the famed hotels and casinos on the Las Vegas strip.

He spent the day in New York and Boston raising money and held a rally in New Jersey, where an overflow crowd of more than 3,000 packed in a college gymnasium.

"My voice is a little hoarse, my eyes are a little bleary, my back is a little sore, but my spirit is strong," Obama told cheering supporters.

The loss in New Hampshire "reminds us that change is always met by resistance from the status quo," he said, echoing a line aimed at Clinton by rival John Edwards in a debate on Saturday.

After his fourth-place finish in the Democratic primary, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has decided to drop his presidential bid and was expected to make a formal announcement on Thursday, U.S. media reported, citing sources with knowledge of his decision.

Terry McAuliffe, Clinton's national campaign chairman, said her New Hampshire win spurred a rush of more than $1 million in donations in one day and pumped up the candidate and her supporters. The New York senator and former first lady is seeking to become the first female U.S. president.


"It was a big, big win for this campaign. I cannot tell you how excited we are as we move forward," he said.

The 71-year-old McCain's political rebirth also gave his once-struggling campaign new life and put him in the midst of a wild scramble for the Republican nomination that has produced no clear favorite.

"This state can again play a key role. We won here in 2000 and we will win again in 2008," McCain, whose presidential bid collapsed in 2000 shortly after his Michigan win, told an airport rally in Grand Rapids.

Michigan shaped up as a must-win for Romney, 60, the former Massachusetts governor, who spent heavily in Iowa and New Hampshire but finished second in both states. Romney's campaign suspended advertising in South Carolina and Florida to concentrate on Michigan.

"We feel the best strategy for us is to direct all our efforts toward Michigan. That's where the next playing field is," said Romney spokesman Kevin Madden.

New Hampshire's voters refused to follow the lead of Iowa, which last week gave Democrat Obama, 46, and Republican former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, 52, the first big wins of the U.S. presidential race.

Huckabee, a Baptist minister who has risen partly on the support of evangelicals, flew to South Carolina before the state's Republican showdown on Jan. 19. He said his Southern roots would help there.

"Certainly there's a deep connection I have with people in the South, there's a greater familiarity," Huckabee told reporters aboard his plane.


The typically stoic Clinton conceded an emotional moment during a pre-election rally on Monday, in which she came close to tears as she discussed her reasons for wanting the presidency, may have helped her.

"I had this incredible moment of connection with the voters of New Hampshire and they saw it and they heard it," she said on CBS' "Early Show."

Clinton, 60, who finished third in Iowa, faced predictions of doom before New Hampshire. Polls showed her trailing Obama by double-digits, but she pulled out a narrow win.

Obama had hoped a New Hampshire win would solidify his hold on the top spot in the race.

Instead, his campaign turned to Nevada and in particular South Carolina, where more than half the Democratic primary voters are expected to be black.

Both Obama and Clinton reported big fundraising numbers in the last three months of 2007, with Clinton bringing in $24 million for the nominating race and Obama $22.4 million. Obama raised $8 million in the first eight days of 2008. (Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Michigan, Jeff Mason in New Hampshire, Jeremy Pelofsky in South Carolina, Adam Tanner in Nevada and Doina Chiacu in Washington.

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