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U.S. vote puts McCain ahead; Clinton, Obama draw

WASHINGTON - Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton faced a protracted battle while John McCain took charge of the Republican race after the "Super Tuesday" presidential nominating contests in 24 U.S. states.
Republican presidential candidate U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) speaks at his Super Tuesday rally in Phoenix, Arizona, February 5, 2008. (REUTERS/Rick Wilking)

In the biggest day of voting to choose party candidates who will contest the election to succeed President George W. Bush in November, Obama won 13 states and Clinton took eight.

Clinton's wins included the key prizes of California and New York, making for a virtual draw in the hard-fought Democratic duel.

McCain won nine contests, including victories in California and the Northeast, to take a commanding lead in the Republican race.

"Tonight, I think we must get used to the idea that we are the Republican Party front-runner for the nomination," McCain told supporters in Scottsdale, Arizona. "And I don't really mind it one bit."

The Arizona senator whose campaign was all but dead last summer captured a huge haul of the convention delegates who select the party's presidential nominee, taking several big states where delegates are granted on a winner-take-all basis.

Republican rivals Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee vowed to fight on, but could face growing questions about the viability of their campaigns. Romney won seven states and Huckabee won five on Tuesday.


The mixed results, with all contenders in both parties scoring at least five wins, were set to prolong the nominating races that began in early January.

A new round of contests in a half-dozen states are scheduled within the next week, including Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, which are likely to give a clearer idea whether Obama can continue his surge against Clinton.

Both were expected to return to Washington on Wednesday to vote on a stimulus package in the Senate.

Huckabee said fund-raising has picked up and he expected to be competitive in upcoming contests in Virginia, Kansas and Texas.

"This is still a race that is ongoing," the former Arkansas governor said on ABC's "Good Morning America." "The only way we can be absolutely assured of losing is to leave the game."

The close Democratic contest, which has generated wide public interest, gives voters the chance to nominate a candidate who could be the first black U.S. president, Illinois senator Obama, or the first female president, New York senator and former first lady Clinton.

The Clinton and Obama camps said they expected Tuesday's delegate count to wind up relatively even. Overall, by early Wednesday, Clinton had 845 delegates and Obama 765, the Washington Post said, well short of the 2,025 either needs to win the nomination.

In the Republican race, the Post said McCain had 613 delegates to Romney's 269 and Huckabee's 190, with 1,191 needed to win.

McCain, who lost the Republican primary race in 2000 to George W. Bush, still faces a struggle to win over conservatives in the party, who oppose his views on immigration, tax cuts and campaign finance reform.

Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and wealthy venture capitalist, has argued McCain lacks the conservative credentials to be the party nominee.

McCain and Romney were scheduled to address a conference of conservatives in Washington on Thursday, while Huckabee was scheduled to speak there on Saturday.


Economic worries -- plunging housing values, rising energy and food prices, jittery financial markets and new data showing a big contraction in the service sector -- eclipsed the Iraq war as voters' top concern in both parties, exit polls showed.

With no knock-out blow delivered in Tuesday's contests, some commentators worried about a fresh round of divisiveness.

"Polls of Democratic voters on Tuesday made it clear that the politics of identity -- race, gender, class -- was driving the contest between Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton. In the Republican contests, the far-right fringe is trying to maul their party's front-runner, Senator John McCain," said the New York Times in an editorial.

Obama scored victories in Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Utah and his home state of Illinois.

Clinton won Arizona, Arkansas, California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Tennessee and her home state of New York. She went into Super Tuesday battling a wave of momentum for Obama, who had surged in national polls on his message of change. New Mexico was still too close to call, media said.

Obama maintained his strong showing among black voters but also expanded support among whites, winning 40 percent in Georgia, exit polls said. Clinton won heavy support from women and Hispanics, exit polls showed.

McCain won in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New York and Oklahoma.

Huckabee, a Baptist preacher, won in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee and West Virginia.

Romney won in Alaska, Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and Massachusetts, where he served as governor, and Utah, which has a heavy concentration of Mormons. Romney would be the first Mormon president.

Huckabee's wins were fueled by strong support from evangelical Christians, and he split votes with Romney among conservatives unhappy with McCain.

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