Sen. John McCain swept a string of delegate-rich, East Coast primaries Tuesday night, reaching for command of the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Democratic rivals Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama traded victories in an epic struggle from Connecticut to California.

Phillip Kurdunowicz
Phillip Kurdunowicz

“We’ve won some of the biggest states in the country,” McCain told cheering supporters at a rally in Phoenix after pocketing victories in all regions. An underdog for months, he proclaimed himself the front-runner at last, and added. “I don’t really mind it one bit.”

Sen. John McCain jumped to a commanding lead in the Republican delegate race over Mitt Romney on Super Tuesday. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton edged ahead of Sen. Barack Obama in the race for Democratic delegates.

McCain won 420 delegates to 130 for Romney and 99 for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in incomplete results. A total of 1,023 delegates were up for grabs in 21 states.

Overall, McCain led with 522 delegates, to 223 for Romney and 142 for Huckabee. It takes 1,191 to win the nomination at this summer’s convention in St. Paul, Minn.

Clinton led with 445 delegates to Obama’s 409 in incomplete results. A total of 1,681 delegates were at stake in 22 states and American Samoa.

Overall, that gave Clinton 706 delegates, to 611 for Obama, with 2,025 delegates required to claim the nomination in Denver at this summer’s convention.

Neither Clinton nor Obama proclaimed overall victory on a Super Tuesday that sprawled from coast-to-coast, and with good reason.

“I look forward to continuing our campaign and our debate about how to leave this country better off for the next generation,” said Clinton, looking ahead to the primaries and caucuses yet to come.

Obama was in Chicago, where he told a noisy election night rally, “Our time has come. Our movement is real. And change is coming to America.”

LSA sophomore Kelly Bernero, chair of the University’s chapter of Students for Hillary, and LSA sophomore Tom Duvall, chair of the University’s chapter of Students for Obama agreed that neither candidate achieved a clear victory.

“Because our field is so strong, and Obama and Clinton are such strong candidates, that we will not know who the nominee is until the very end,” Bernero said.

A few weeks ago, though, Clinton was the clear frontrunner, leading Obama in national polls by about 20 points.

Duvall said Obama’s grassroots campaign efforts and appeal to college students helped him close in on Clinton’s lead.

“His numbers are skyrocketing across the country,” Duvall said. “The fact that Barack Obama was able to close the gap to where it is shows that the more voters see of him, the more they recognize what an impressive nominee he would be.”

McCain, the early Republican front-runner whose campaign nearly unraveled six months ago, won in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Missouri, Delaware and his home state of Arizona to gain all 309 delegates at stake there – well over a quarter of the total needed for the nomination. He also put Illinois and Oklahoma in his column.

Kinesiology senior Allison Schneider, chair of the University’s chapter of Students for McCain, said McCain’s frontrunner status is because of his promise to be honest and straightforward about his positions.

“He’s appealing because he’s genuine,” Schneider said. “He doesn’t always give the answers they want to hear, but he gives the answers he believes to be true.”

Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, won a series of Bible Belt victories, in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee as well as his own home state. He told The Associated Press in an interview he would campaign on. “The one way you can’t win a race is to quit it, and until somebody beats me, I’m going to answer the bell for every round of this fight,” he said.

LSA senior Amy Drumm, chair of the University’s chapter of Students for Romney, said Huckabee’s persistence in the race is hurting Romney’s campaign.

“It looks like Huckabee is only staying in it to take votes from Romney,” Drumm said. “Huckabee’s supporters are social conservatives. If he wasn’t in the race, more of his supporters would swing to Romney,”

Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, won a home state victory. He also took Utah, where fellow Mormons supported his candidacy. His superior organization produced victories in North Dakota, Montana and Minnesota, and he, too, breathed defiance.

While many believe McCain has the support and momentum to secure the Republican nomination, Drumm said Romney is still the candidate of choice for social conservatives. She said McCain’s support is largely from independents and Democrats who voted for McCain in open Republican primaries.

“Romney is supported in most conservative circles,” Drumm said. “His support comes from real Republicans and true conservatives, not the independents.”

Democrats played out a historic struggle between Clinton, seeking to become the first female president and Obama, hoping to become the first black person to win the White House.

Democratic students said they would be excited to support Obama or Clinton regardless of which candidate receives the party’s nomination.

“So far, the Democratic supporters have embraced the significance of both having a woman president or our first black president,” Bernero said. “Those are factors which have helped them both out equally.”

Clinton won at home in New York as well as in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Arizona and Arkansas, where she was first lady for more than a decade. She also won the caucuses in American Samoa.

Obama won Connecticut, Georgia, Alabama, Delaware, Utah and his home state of Illinois. He prevailed in caucuses in North Dakota, Minnesota, Kansas and Idaho, all caucus states.

After an early series of low-delegate, single-state contests, Super Tuesday was anything but small – its primaries and caucuses were spread across nearly half the country in the most wide-open presidential campaign in memory.

The result was a double-barreled set of races, Obama and Clinton fighting for delegates as well as bragging rights in individual states, the Republicans doing the same.

Polling place interviews with voters suggested subtle shifts in the political landscape, potentially significant as the races push on through the campaign calendar.

For the first time this year, McCain ran first in a few states among self-identified Republicans. As usual, he was running strongly among independents. Romney was getting the votes of about four in 10 people who described themselves as conservative. McCain was wining about one-third of that group, and Huckabee about one in five.

Overall, Clinton was winning only a slight edge among women and white voters, groups that she had won handily in earlier contests, according to preliminary results from interviews with voters in 16 states leaving polling places.

Obama was collecting the overwhelming majority of votes cast by blacks.

Clinton was gaining the votes of roughly six in 10 Hispanics, and she hoped the edge would serve her well as the race turned west to Arizona, New Mexico and California, the biggest prize with 370 delegates.

The allocation of delegates lagged the vote count by hours. That was particularly true for the Democrats, who divided theirs roughly in proportion to the popular vote.

Nine of the Republican contests were winner take all, and that was where McCain piled up his lead.

-Suzy Vuljevic, Julie Rowe and The Associated Press contributed to this report

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