Washington:Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama split the spoils on ‘Super Tuesday’, heralding an epic weeks-long battle for the Democratic White House nomination, after the biggest coast-to-coast primary showdown in history.
The former first lady won her home state New York, Massachussetts, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee, while Obama picked up Delaware, Kansas, Utah, North Dakota and Alabama.
On a night of high drama, Republican John McCain meanwhile swept into a lead as he tried to take a stranglehold on his party’s ticket, but rival Mike Huckabee rode support from conservatives for an unexpectedly strong showing.
Obama, a charismatic senator vying to become the first black president, struck the first blow with a landslide win in Georgia, grabbing more than eight-in-ten African-American voters, one of his key powerbases.
He also pulled off a key win in Connecticut, according to television network projections, a state where the former first lady had led polls until a few weeks ago, and also won Minnesota, another battleground.
But Clinton, hoping to make history as America’s first woman president, kept an Obama surge at bay by winning Massachusetts — a sweet victory after the state’s Democratic senators Edward Kennedy and John Kerry backed Obama.
She also held on to win in New Jersey, in her backyard as a New York senator, securing key support from Hispanic voters, but another key battleground, Missouri, was too close to call.
As campaigns competed to spin the partial results to their best advantage, Clinton, 60, sent out an email to supporters, claiming she had the edge: “Yet again, your support has given us the momentum tonight.”
The former first lady’s top strategist, Mark Penn, said the blur of voting left only one thing clear: the race will drag on for weeks longer.
“We feel like we’ve had a good night but this contest is far from over,” he told reporters. “This is not going to be decided any time in the near future as far as we can see.”
As expected, Clinton and Obama traded home state victories in New York and Illinois, on a night which was likely to prove inconclusive on the Democratic side, and set up a long chase for delegates through at least March.
Super Tuesday states allocate more than half the Democratic delegates and almost half of Republican delegates to the party conventions in August and September, which will anoint nominees.
The picture was complicated by the Democratic system of proportional representation, with both campaigns expecting the rivals to be separated by only a few hundred delegates by the end of the night.
On the Republican side, McCain, a Vietnam war hero, grabbed wins in New York, Illinois, Connecticut, Delaware and New Jersey.
But ordained Baptist pastor Mike Huckabee snatched victories in the southern states of Georgia and Alabama and won over conservatives in West Virginia, where he won the state’s caucuses.
Another key rival, Mitt Romney, hoping to also corral conservatives against McCain, hung on to his home state of Massachusetts. Huckabee also won Arkansas, where he was once governor.
Huckabee said the results meant he had confounded those who tried to nudge him out of the race, to set up a clear choice between McCain and Romney.
“Over the past few days a lot of people have been trying to say that this is a two-man race — well, you know what? It is, and we’re in it!” said Huckabee at his campaign headquarters in Arkansas.
Turnout was high as voting rippled across the country from northeastern Massachusetts to western Alaska, in a 24-state bonanza of primaries and caucuses, the biggest test yet in the enthralling 2008 race.
The full picture of Super Tuesday voting will only emerge in California, where polls close at 0400 GMT, where both the Democratic and Republican races are too close to call.
After a clutch of single-state contests, Super Tuesday embraced millions of voters from across racial, religious, social and income barriers.
Clinton went into the clash after pocketing wins in contests in New Hampshire and Nevada, while Obama took the leadoff Iowa caucuses and thumped her in the South Carolina primary.
There are Democratic contests in 22 states, Republican match-ups in 21 states, and 19 states are holding nominating clashes for both parties.