This may take a while. That was the message for Democrats after Tuesday's multi-state nominating contest once expected to anoint a candidate for the US presidential election -- ended up in a virtual tie between rivals Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
After scrambling to visit some 22 states in less than two weeks, the candidates historic because of her gender and his race now face a slew of new state contests in what is likely to be a prolonged fight to win their party's nomination.
"It's going to be a bloodbath," said John Geer, professor of political science at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
Bloody or not, the protracted battle means both presidential hopefuls have more time to make their cases for the chance to fight the eventual Republican candidate in the November election.
Obama, an Illinois senator who has repeatedly argued that Clinton's fame as the wife of former President Bill Clinton gives her an advantage, will use the time to introduce himself to more voters and build on the momentum that has fueled his candidacy in recent weeks.
"The longer this goes on, the more he becomes better known," David Gergen, a former advisor to Republican and Democratic presidents, told Reuters.
"The more he's known, the better he does."
Clinton, he said, should use the time to hone her own message around one motivating theme.
Clinton advisors argued that, like Obama, voters were getting to know the New York senator better and Tuesday's results showed she had momentum of her own.
"Coming into tonight, there was a lot of media hype about Obama's momentum and it didn't materialize," said spokesman Doug Hattaway. "People are still getting to know Hillary in her own right."
Obama, 46, won 13 states on "Super Tuesday" and Clinton, 60, took eight, including populous California and New York. But because the nomination hinges on delegates, and the Democrats award delegates on a proportional basis, the delegate count after Tuesday's vote was likely to end up fairly even.
But as the battle moves to states such as Louisiana and Washington, Obama has both a financial edge -- he raised $32 million in January alone -- and the buzz of big crowds that show up at his events nationwide.
"This campaign for the presidency of the United States of America is different," he told a cheering audience on Tuesday night. "Our time has come."
Clinton's crowds, though not as big as Obama's, seem to respond to her willingness to hold frequent question and answer sessions. She has called for four more debates with Obama, an attempt to display her command of key issues, generate free media coverage, and highlight his perceived inexperience.
"I look forward to continuing our campaign and our debates," she said, congratulating Obama on the states he won.
Obama campaign manager David Plouffe refused to commit to more such sessions, however, saying the Clinton camp's strategy of calling for them was a "tactic out of the second tier Congressional playbook."
He said the Illinois senator was well placed to compete in the remaining contests. "We think we have the stronger position as we head into the rest of February and March."
It could take longer than that. Some analysts predict the race could last into August, when the party holds its national convention in Denver to formally select a nominee.
"I expect that this contest may not be settled until the convention," said Kenneth Janda, professor emeritus of political science at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
He said many voters were just now paying attention to the election -- a factor that could help Obama.
"It takes a long time for a new person to penetrate into the psyche of the American electorate," he said. "Many people are now starting to get tuned in."
Meanwhile the states that have later primary elections will have an unusually significant role in determining the nominee, an ironic twist after several moved up their contests to February 5 in order to have a greater say.
Other early states may spark legal battles if the nominating contest stays close. Florida and Michigan, which were stripped of their nominating delegates after advancing their primary dates, could become fodder for lawsuits if Clinton, who won in both states, seeks to get those delegates reinstated.