An emotional Hillary Clinton and rival Barack Obama pushed for votes in the US Northeast on Monday, the day before a coast-to-coast Democratic presidential showdown that is neck-and-neck in opinion polls.
On a visit to Yale University in Connecticut, Clinton's eyes glistened during an introduction recalling her law school days there. It was an echo of her emotional display before the New Hampshire primary, credited with helping turn the tide for her eventual victory in the state. "Well I said I wouldn't tear up," the New York senator said. "Already we're not exactly on the path."
Obama, an Illinois senator, campaigned in New Jersey and Connecticut ahead of "Super Tuesday" voting in 24 states, the biggest single day of voting ever in a US presidential nominating race. "We cannot wait to bring change to America," Obama said in East Rutherford, New Jersey, where he was joined by Massachusetts Sen Edward Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy, his niece and daughter of the late President John F Kennedy.
Republican front-runner John McCain, hoping to score a knockout blow over rival Mitt Romney, invaded the former Massachusetts governor's home turf and told supporters in Boston he could win the state. "I believe we have every good shot at carrying the state of Massachusetts tomorrow," McCain, an Arizona senator, told hundreds of supporters jammed into historic Faneuil Hall.
In New Jersey, he said Romney presided over a "big government, mandated health care plan" in Massachusetts and he promised to compete in the general election for votes in traditional Democratic bastions in the Northeast. "When I get the nomination I will come back and compete for New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and these states in the Northeast," he said in Hamilton, New Jersey.
Romney swept through Tennessee and Georgia before dashing to California, the biggest prize, where a Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll showed him taking a lead over McCain. McCain also hastily scheduled a stop in California on Tuesday. "If I win California that means you're going to have a conservative in the White House," Romney told reporters after eating breakfast with voters at the Pancake Pantry restaurant in Nashville.
The presidential contenders in both parties are aiming on Tuesday to win a big share of national convention delegates who choose the nominees. More than half of the total Democratic delegates are up for grabs, and about 40 percent of the Republican delegates.
Obama and Clinton have waged a bitter battle for the Democratic nomination in November's presidential election, competing for votes from coast to coast after splitting the first four significant contests.
The physical toll of the campaign showed on Clinton, whose voice was hoarse and faint after days of nonstop activity.
A coughing spell also brought tears to her eyes in New Haven and forced her to pause and sip water at an event where she contrasted her universal health care proposal with Obama's, which she contends could leave up to 15 million uninsured.
"My objective is to get everybody into this system," Clinton said. "I am running for president because I know we can do better than we have."
Polls show tight Democratic races in many of the biggest states, although a Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll showed Obama opening a 6-point lead on Clinton in California, which has 441 delegates to the nominating convention -- more than one-fifth of the total needed to win.
Because Democrats distribute delegates in proportion to their vote statewide and in individual congressional districts, candidates can come away with big chunks of delegates even in states they lose.
As a result, neither Obama nor Clinton are likely to deal a knockout blow on Tuesday, prolonging their battle for the nomination to March contests in Texas and Ohio and an April contest in Pennsylvania.
"The likelihood is the nomination will be decided somewhere in those states," Clinton strategist Mark Penn told reporters in a conference call. "This race will continue until someone has the delegates necessary to secure the nomination."
In contrast, many Republican contests are winner-take-all when awarding delegates, meaning a strong day by McCain could give him a commanding lead.
McCain said in Boston he hoped "to do well enough to hopefully draw this process to a close, but if not we'll be prepared to continue to go out and campaign."
Romney has tried to take advantage of conservative qualms about McCain's views on taxes, immigration and campaign finance reform. He said the race would not end after Tuesday.
"Across the country, conservatives have come together and said 'You know what, we don't want Senator McCain. We want a conservative to be in the White House,'" Romney said.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won the first contest in Iowa, also remains in the Republican race, and has siphoned conservative votes from Romney in some contests. He is aiming for a strong showing in the South.