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Would-be presidents battle to the wire on Super Tuesday

5 February 2008

WASHINGTON – From Alaska to West Virginia, voters Tuesday make their pick for the two candidates they want to see running for president in November. Yet the suspense may well last beyond the coast-to-coast primaries in a record 24 states.

Ahead of the Super Tuesday voting, African-American Barack Obama, 46, and former first lady Hillary Clinton, 60, both US senators, were running neck-and-neck for the centre-left Democratic Party’s nomination and the chance to win back the White House.

For the centre-right Republicans, Vietnam War veteran John McCain, 71, is battling former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, 60, with former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, 52, in third place as a possible power broker.

Each state awards delegates to the two parties’ nominating conventions in the summer, and both parties are choosing about half their delegates Tuesday. Some of the biggest prizes are in play, led by California, New York, Illinois and New Jersey.

After tens of millions of dollars in campaign spending, increasingly sharp rhetoric and a month of single-state primaries, Super Tuesday is an early high point in the most wide-open US presidential election in decades.

But because Democrats award delegates mostly according to a contender’s share of the vote in each state, Tuesday could end with Obama and Clinton still locked in battle for their party’s nomination.

"Nobody knows. But it should be exciting," Obama said Monday. "I think that we’re now pretty evenly matched across the country, so it will be a tough contest. And it’s not clear that 5 February is going to be as decisive as people expected."

National polls showed Obama gaining momentum ahead of Tuesday’s vote, moving into a statistical tie with Clinton. Nine more states hold Democratic preference votes later in February.

McCain, a US senator from Arizona, has surged to the lead in the Republican field. Republican Party rules that give the first-place finisher the entire delegation in a handful of winner-take-all states could help him nail down the nomination Tuesday, though his two major rivals could also splinter the vote.

Obama, son of a Kenyan father and a white American mother, has emerged as perhaps the most exciting new face in the contest to replace lame-duck President George W Bush.

Obama and Clinton have battled for weeks as both camps sharpened the contrast between Obama’s lofty message of change – a powerful vote-getter in a nation weary of Bush and the Iraq war – and Clinton’s greater political experience.

It’s also a clash between the ageing generation of Vietnam-era baby boomers and younger voters attracted by Obama, who seems unburdened by that time’s ideological battles and eager to transcend America’s racial divisions.

While US voters are clearly in the mood for change, the Democratic nominee is far from assured of victory in the 4 November presidential election. In the battle for critical independent voters, largely moderates who swing between the two major parties, polls suggest McCain would be a strong match for Clinton or Obama.

Unlike Democrats and many Republicans, McCain backed Bush’s troop build-up in Iraq, but that may be less of an obstacle as the flagging US economy becomes a top campaign issue.

While conservative on social issues such as abortion, McCain has pressed Bush to renounce torture, favours stronger steps to combat global warming and touts his foreign policy experience.

"Even though John McCain is the conservative with definitely an independent streak, Republican voters trust him," Nancy Pfotenhauer, a McCain campaign adviser, claimed on Fox News television.

[Copyright dpa 2008]

Subject: US elections, primaries, Super Tuesday