WASHINGTON Sen. Barack Obama won caucuses in Nebraska and Washington state and moved ahead in the Louisiana primary Saturday night, slicing into Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's slender delegate lead in their historic race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The Illinois senator was winning two-thirds support in both caucus states.
Returns from the first handful of Louisiana precincts showed him leading, a black man hoping to extend a string of Southern primary triumphs that already included South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia.
In all, the three states, plus caucuses in the Virgin Islands, offered 161 delegates.
Clinton began the day with a slender delegate lead in The Associated Press count. She had 1,055 delegates to 998 for Obama. A total of 2,025 is required to win the nomination at the national convention in Denver.
The Democratic race moved into a new, post-Super Tuesday phase as Sen. John McCain flunked his first ballot test since becoming the Republican nominee-in-waiting. He lost Kansas caucuses to Mike Huckabee, gaining less than 24 percent of the vote.
Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, got nearly 60 percent of the vote a few hours after telling conservatives in Washington, "I majored in miracles, and I still believe in them." He won all 36 delegates at stake.
McCain and Huckabee also were running even in early caucus returns from Washington state. McCain led in the Louisiana primary, but was below the absolute majority he needed to pocket the 20 delegates at stake.
For all his brave talk, Huckabee was hopelessly behind in the delegate race. McCain had 719, compared with 234 for Huckabee and 14 for Texas Rep. Ron Paul. It takes 1,191 to win the nomination at the national convention.
The Democrats' race was as close as the Republicans' was not, a contest between Obama, hoping to become the first black president, and Clinton, campaigning to become the first female commander in chief.
The two rivals contest primaries on Tuesday in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, all states that Obama hoped to place in his column.
Preliminary results of a survey of voters leaving their polling places in Louisiana showed that nearly half of those casting ballots were black. As a group, African-Americans have overwhelmingly favored Obama in earlier primaries, helping him to wins in several Southern states.
One in seven Democratic voters and about one in 10 Republicans said Hurricane Katrina had caused their families severe hardship from which they have not recovered. There was another indication of the impact the storm had on the state. Early results suggested that northern Louisiana accounted for a larger share of the electorate than in the past, presumably the result of the decline in population in the hurricane-battered New Orleans area.
McCain cleared his path to the party nomination earlier in the week with a string of Super Tuesday victories that drove former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney from the race. He spent the rest of the week trying to reassure skeptical conservatives, at the same time party leaders quickly closed ranks behind him.
His Kansas defeat aside, McCain also suffered a symbolic defeat when Romney edged him out in a straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference meeting across town from the White House.
The day's contests opened a new phase in the Democratic race between Clinton and Obama.
The Feb. 5 Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses in 22 states, which once looked likely to effectively settle the race, instead produced a near-equal delegate split.
That left Obama and Clinton facing the likelihood of a grind-it-out competition lasting into spring if not to the summer convention itself.
With the night's events, 29 of the 50 states have selected delegates.
Two more Michigan and Florida held renegade primaries and the Democratic National Committee has vowed not to seat any delegates chosen at either of them.
Maine, with 24 delegates, holds caucuses today. Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia and voting by Americans overseas are next, on Tuesday, with 175 combined.
Then follows a brief intermission, followed by a string of election nights, some crowded, some not.
The date of March 4 looms large, 370 delegates in primaries in Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island and Vermont.
Mississippi is alone in holding a primary one week later, with a relatively small 33 delegates at stake.
Puerto Rico anchors the Democratic calendar, with 55 delegates chosen in caucuses on June 7.
If Super Tuesday failed to settle the campaign, it produced a remarkable surge in fundraising.
Obama's aides announced he had raised more than $7 million on line in the two days that followed.
Clinton disclosed she had loaned her campaign $5 million late last month in an attempt to counter her rival's Super Tuesday television advertising. She raised more than $6 million in the two days after the busiest night in primary history.
The television ad wars continued unabated.
Obama has been airing commercials for more than a week in television markets serving every state that has a contest though Feb 19.
Clinton began airing ads midweek in Washington state, Maine and Nebraska, and added Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia on Friday.
The exit poll was conducted by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International for The Associated Press and the television networks.