WASHINGTON Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton contested primaries in Ohio, Texas and two other states on Tuesday, the front-runner and his pursuer in a riveting race for the Democratic presidential nomination. John McCain reached out for the Republican delegates needed to secure his nomination after a decade's struggle.
In all there were 370 Democratic delegates at stake in Rhode Island, Vermont, Ohio and Texas, which uses an unusual primary-caucus system.
After 11 straight victories, Obama had the momentum and the lead in the delegate chase in The Associated Press count, 1,386-1,276.
His margin was larger 1,187-1,035 among pledged delegates chose in primaries and caucuses. The former first lady had an advantage among party leaders known as superdelegates, 241-199.
That left Clinton in desperate need of a comeback with time running out if it hadn't already.
Some of her supporters, her husband, the former president among them, said she needed to outpoll Obama in both Texas and Ohio to sustain her candidacy.
Without conceding anything, Obama's allies said even that wouldn't be enough, given his lead in the delegate count and party rules that virtually assure primary losers a significant share of the spoils.
It takes 2,025 delegates to win the Democratic nomination, and slightly more than 600 remained to be picked in the 10 states that vote after Tuesday.
The Democratic marathon was in contrast to a Republican race that was fierce while it lasted, but long since settled.
McCain, the Arizona senator, began the night with 1,014 delegates, out of 1,191 needed for the nomination at the party convention next summer in St. Paul, Minn. There were 256 Republican delegates at stake in the four states on the night's ballot.
McCain's sole major remaining rival, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, had 257 delegates, and posed no threat.
It was McCain's second run at the nomination, after his loss to George W. Bush in 2000. Once the front-runner, his campaign nearly imploded last summer. But he regrouped, reassuming the underdog role that he relishes, and methodically dispatched one rival after another in a string of primaries in January and early February.
In the other half of the most wide-open presidential campaign in a half-century, Obama looked for the knockout blow, while Clinton sought a revival.
As before, he outspent her in television commercials, an advantage padded by unions working in his behalf.
Rhode Island and Vermont received little attention from either of the candidates, who devoted most of their time to Ohio and Texas. They debated once in each big state, and stressed issues that varied from one to the other.
Thus, NAFTA was a focus of the Ohio race.
Obama sent out mass mailings that said Clinton had supported the free trade agreement when it was passed during her husband's administration, and that he had opposed it. She angrily accused him of distorting her record.
But roles were reversed in the campaign's final hours after a memo surfaced in which a Canadian official described a meeting in which Obama's senior economic adviser said the Illinois senator's criticisms of the trade agreement were political positioning.
Clinton said Obama had given a "wink-wink" to Canada on the issue.
Obama said, "Nobody reached out to the Canadians to try to assure them of anything."
The Texas campaign revolved more around readiness to serve as commander in chief.
Clinton aired a television commercial that showed children asleep in their beds. "It's 3 a.m. and your children are safely asleep. Who do you want answering the phone?" the announcer said.
Obama wasn't mentioned, but responded quickly.
He told reporters that Clinton had already had her "red phone moment," and voted for the Iraq war.
He launched his own ad, with sleeping children and a telephone ringing ominously.
"In a dangerous world, it's judgment that matters," the announcer said.