WASHINGTON (AFP) — Democrat Barack Obama Tuesday sought to extend his hot streak in a trio of Washington-area primaries and deal another morale sapping blow to Hillary Clinton's under-the-gun White House quest.
Turnout was reportedly high in Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C., as the Illinois senator aimed for a clean sweep to swell his growing head of steam and forge a clear lead in their tense race for the party nomination.
Polls in Virginia were due to close at 7 pm (0000 GMT) and in Maryland and Washington an hour later, to conclude the latest twist in the compelling Democratic tussle between two candidates tilting at history.
Obama, aiming to be America's first African-American president, is on a high, after sweeping five nominating contests at the weekend, to nudge ahead of Clinton with his tally of convention delegates.
Clinton, vying to become the first woman president, hoped to confound polls suggesting three more defeats, as she tries to reignite her faltering challenge after ousting her campaign manager on Sunday.
On the Republican side, Senator John McCain, who emerged from last week's nationwide Super Tuesday contests as presumptive nominee, enjoyed a more than 20 point lead in the latest polls in both Maryland and Virginia.
His last viable remaining rival, Mike Huckabee, a favorite of evangelical voters, is vowing to fight on however, despite having only a mathematical chance of depriving McCain of the nomination.
Clinton was already looking past Tuesday, with a flurry of television interviews, including with stations in delegate-rich Ohio and Texas, which vote on March 4, and are now must-win contests for the former first lady.
Asked by a Cleveland, Ohio, station whether the state was a make-or-break encounter for her, Clinton argued she had been written off before.
"I've been down this road before, before I won New Hampshire, nobody thought I would ... this is a close race, it's a long road to the nomination," she said.
New York Senator Clinton was due to hold a rally in Texas on Tuesday night, as results from the Washington-area states rolled in, while Obama was in Wisconsin, which holds its primary contest on February 19.
In one symbolic boost on Tuesday, Clinton snapped up the endorsement of former Ohio senator and astronaut John Glenn.
"She has the strength and experience to take on the Republicans in November and win Ohio and the White House," Glenn said.
Obama's campaign manager David Plouffe told reporters Obama's weekend sweep of contests in Louisana, Nebraska, Washington state, Maine and the US Virgin Islands, would not necessarily impact later results.
"We certainly don't factor momentum into any of our calculations, we know that voters in those states evaluate each candidate as closely.
"We did well obviously Saturday and Sunday but as far as we're concerned, that doesn't have much relevance about what happens tonight."
Voters in the so-called Potomac Primary, for the river that passes through all three of Tuesday's jurisdictions, reveled in their newfound importance in the presidential race after nominating contests across more than half the country left the two senators in a dead heat.
"It feels a little more that something historical is happening this year," said real estate investor Brian Coulter, 48, at a polling place in Bethesda, Maryland.
Andrea Matney, 39, a special event manager who lives in Bethesda added: "this particular election feels particularly meaningful to me."
Virginia is the biggest prize Tuesday, with 83 Democratic delegates up for grabs, while Maryland has 70 on offer, and the US capital, a special federal district, 15.
Obama leads Clinton 1,144 to 1,138 in the running delegate count, according to website RealClearPolitics.com. A total of 2,025 delegates are needed for the nomination.
The role of some 440 still-undecided super-delegates -- party luminaries who can choose to vote for either candidate -- is now likely to be critical.
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