Sen. Barack Obama aimed to continue his streak of victories with decisive wins in the Potomac region's trio of primary elections today as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton already was looking ahead to bigger contests to make up for lost ground.
Obama volunteers working the crowd for him at a University of Maryland rally yesterday pushed supporters to sign up to canvass neighborhoods in both states, while D.C. Democrats were treated to automated phone calls from Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.
"Imagine a president who will put principle ahead of polls ... now imagine knowing that you made it possible. Vote for Barack Obama tomorrow," Mr. Fenty says on the calls.
Clinton volunteers worked the phones to get out the vote, and Republicans also vote today in the three contests.
Obama supporters reminded voters that they should capitalize on his momentum, saying the bigger his margin of victory, the more delegates he will collect in the race to win enough for the Democratic presidential nod.
"Wow, look at this crowd. It looks like we're having March Madness a little early," the Illinois senator said, to cheers from nearly 18,000 in the Terrapins' basketball arena. Then he got serious, calling for troops to return from Iraq and for more diplomacy in U.S. foreign policy. "I am prepared to lead this country in a new direction," he said.
Mr. Obama leads his rival by wide margins in both Virginia and Maryland, and is expected to win the District handily. He is buoyed by momentum from five straight wins as Mrs. Clinton deflects negative attention from her campaign shake-up.
The remaining candidates in the Republican race also campaigned across Virginia and Maryland, with Sen. John McCain of Arizona — all but assured of his party's nomination — hitting events in Annapolis and Richmond. He appeared at an aviation museum with Sen. John W. Warner and former Sen. George Allen, both of Virginia, and once again vowed to follow September 11 mastermind Osama bin Laden "to the gates of hell."
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister, sought votes among his strongest base, evangelical Christians, in both states and vowed to continue his quest for the nomination, even though he needs to win 93 percent of the remaining delegates to achieve his goal.
Campaigning in the Potomac region yesterday, Mrs. Clinton said her campaign is strong despite campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle's getting replaced this weekend.
"I'm still ahead in the popular vote and in delegates," she told reporters. She said she is "confident" of her position in the March 4 contests in Texas and Ohio, where more delegates are at stake than today's elections. She will campaign today in Texas.
She downplayed Mr. Obama's weekend sweep, saying four of the contests were caucus elections in which she never expected to do well. She pointed to her wins on Super Tuesday in California and Arizona, saying that those are states that Democrats must win in November while Mr. Obama's victories in red states like North Dakota aren't likely to be a factor in a general election.
"Before Super Tuesday, you all were reporting on all the momentum. It didn't turn out to be true," she said. "Let's have the elections. Instead of talking about them, pontificating and punditing, let's let people actually vote."
Later in a Politico/ABC7 forum, Mrs. Clinton said she wasn't worried about changes in her campaign or her string of losses.
"I think things have gone well. This is always going to be a competitive race because there's so much at stake," she said.
Mrs. Clinton's supporters made the rounds of the region yesterday as well.
"I think if the test is who's got the best ideas, who's got the right policies, who's got the best record of actually making changes in other people's lives, it's not a close call," former President Bill Clinton said while campaigning for his wife in Fredericksburg yesterday.
Mrs. Clinton touted her "green jobs" plan to fight climate change and boost the economy while touring a General Motors factory that makes hybrid car transmissions in White Marsh, Md.
Mr. Obama also played up his environmental plan when rallying the college students yesterday.
"We are going to cap greenhouse gases and we are going to charge polluters," he said, and invest the money in clean energy projects. Under his plan, young people would be trained to insulate homes for energy efficiency and to "change light bulbs," he said.
As the two Democrats remain nearly tied in the race to win enough delegates to receive the nomination, a whopping Obama victory would push his numbers up further and attract crucial superdelegates.
"This will be a better month for Senator Obama than it will be for us," predicted Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson. "We believe next month will be a better month for us."
The Associated Press has calculated Mr. Obama has 931 pledged delegates to Mrs. Clinton's 882, before he won at least 15 of the 24 delegates available in Sunday's Maine caucus.
But if superdelegates who have declared their support, which is nonbinding, are factored into the count, Mrs. Clinton led Mr. Obama 1,125 to 1,087 before the Maine results are added.
Mr. Obama began running television ads in Texas and Ohio yesterday, but Mrs. Clinton currently leads in polls of voters in those big states.
The Illinois senator, clearly in a good mood as national polls showed him tied with or beating Mrs. Clinton, teased the top-ranked women's basketball team at the University of Maryland and said they should play some pickup rounds.
"I've still got game," he said.
He later pushed back against Mrs. Clinton's claim she is battle-tested enough to stand up to Republicans.
"I may be skinny, but I'm tough, too," he said.
Mr. Obama outlined his record as a state legislator and community organizers in Illinois, and added if voters choose him, "you will elect a president who has taught the Constitution, and believes the Constitution and will obey the Constitution."
c Joseph Curl contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.