- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Republican Mitt Romney yesterday dashed back to California, where he hoped to make one last stand against Sen. John McCain, poised to lock down the nomination by capturing hundreds of delegates in a slew of winner-take-all states.

Photos: Final campaign push before Super Tuesday

Sen. Barack Obama stormed across Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s delegate-rich back yard, courting Northeast voters as the road-weary Democratic presidential campaigns prepared to carve up the electoral map on Super Tuesday.

Both Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney yesterday portrayed themselves as underdogs, and each predicted surprises in today’s showdowns across more than 20 states.

“For me to be able to bring a Patriots’ fan to the Meadowlands the day after the Super Bowl is like bringing the lion and the lamb together,” Mr. Obama said at a rally outside Giants Stadium with Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, whose heavily favored New England Patriots lost Sunday to the New York Giants.

“Sometimes, the underdog pulls it out,” a smiling Mr. Obama said at the New Jersey event. “You can’t always believe the pundits and prognosticators.”

Mr. Romney, who jumped to an eight-point lead in California in the latest Zogby poll but trails in a dozen other states, refused to cede the race to Mr. McCain, who stands to pick up more than a quarter of the delegates that he needs for the nomination in just five states.

“We’re going to hand the liberals in our party a little surprise,” said Mr. Romney, predicting that he would score a win in today’s richest prize, California, with 173 delegates.

“It’s a very tight race,” the former Massachusetts governor said. “A lot of people said it’s just going to be, you know, a very easy race for Senator McCain. But you know what’s happened? Across the country, conservatives have come together and that say, you know what? We don’t want Senator McCain; we want a conservative.”

The fourth-term Arizona senator has drawn the ire of conservatives by backing a path to citizenship for illegal aliens, sponsoring campaign-finance reform seen by some as advantageous to Democrats and opposing President Bush’s tax cuts, which he now wants to make permanent.

But yesterday, Mr. McCain, building a head of steam off back-to-back wins in South Carolina and Florida, looked past dissension in his party and even his Republican opponent, eyeing the general election in November.

“I can lead this nation and motivate all Americans to serve a cause greater than their self-interest,” the senator said while campaigning at a fire station in New Jersey.

If Mr. McCain wins New York, Missouri, Arizona, New Jersey and Connecticut — the latest polls show he leads in all five, most by double digits — he would haul in 294 delegates. The Republican nominee needs 1,191 delegates to win the nomination.

The political world was awash with predictions yesterday. “John McCain will emerge victorious tomorrow by virtue of all those big victories in major winner-take-all states,” pollster John Zogby said.

Asked whether a California win could keep Mr. Romney alive, Mr. Zogby said: “Probably not.”

Pollster Scott Rasmussen said, “John McCain will be the clear nominee of the Republican Party when we wake up Wednesday morning, but Obama and Clinton will still be a tight contest, and a contest that might drag on for two months.”

Mrs. Clinton, who leads Mr. Obama among polls in the Northeast states voting today but has been caught by the Illinois senator in national polls, also sought to look past her Democratic foe and focused yesterday on President Bush, criticizing the new federal budget.

She campaigned in Connecticut and Massachusetts before returning to New York to prepare for her Voices Across America nationally televised town hall in an attempt to reach millions of voters at once.

Like Mr. McCain, Mrs. Clinton was leading by substantial margins in states such as New York and New Jersey, but she also led in Massachusetts, despite Mr. Kennedy’s endorsement of Mr. Obama. With 790 delegates among them — the Democratic nominee needs 2,025 delegates to secure the nomination — Mr. Obama worked hard yesterday to cut into that lead, campaigning in East Rutherford, N.J., and in Hartford, Conn., with Mr. Kennedy and niece Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg.

The strain on the candidates showed clearly yesterday. Mrs. Clinton’s voice was raspy; at one stop, struggled to control her coughing; at another, she teared up.

Her first stop yesterday was in New Haven, where she graduated from Yale Law School more than three decades ago. During her introduction, she grew emotional, wiping her eyes with her hand.

“I said I would not tear up. Already, we’re not on that path,” she said to laughter.

Later yesterday, in an appearance on “Late Night With David Letterman,” Mrs. Clinton attributed her sore throat to Sunday’s down-to-the-wire Super Bowl, which she had watched at a Minneapolis sports bar.

“Every New Yorker has a sore throat after last night,” she said, adding that she “took a lot of heart from that, Dave.”

“The fourth quarter before Super Tuesday, you’ve got to keep going,” she said.

But Mr. Obama emerged victorious in the first votes actually cast today, winning 75 percent of the nearly 100 votes cast in Indonesia by U.S. citizens living there, according to the group Democrats Abroad, which runs primaries across the world through Feb. 12. Mr. Obama lived from about the ages of 6 to 10 in Indonesia.

The top three remaining Republican candidates also set absurd schedules: Mr. Romney had breakfast in Tennessee, was in Georgia at lunchtime, touched down in Oklahoma at the dinner hour and was scheduled to arrive in California for a rally just before midnight local time — all before flying through the night so he could attend the West Virginia state convention this morning.

Mr. McCain stopped in Boston and held fundraising events in New Jersey and New York, where he also greeted commuters and held a press conference in Grand Central Station. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee stuck to the South, campaigning in Tennessee and his home state. He is in second place, ahead of Mr. Romney but trailing Mr. McCain, in a few Southern states, including Tennessee and Alabama. In Missouri, Mr. McCain leads Mr. Huckabee by 35 percent to 27 percent, with Mr. Romney in third place at 24 percent. Georgia, with 72 delegates, is a three-way statistical tie.

This article is based in part on wire service dispatches.

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