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US presidential race may be stretched to the wires

world Updated: Jan 24, 2008 23:31 IST

Don't look to crown any presidential nominees on Super Tuesday — the day on which 22 of the 50 states hold primary contests.

The race for delegates is so close in both parties that it is mathematically impossible for any candidate to lock up the nomination on February 5, according to an AP analysis of the states in play that day.

That doesn't mean Super Tuesday won't be super after all. But it's possible February 5 might not produce clear front-runners. Here's why:

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton leads the race for delegates to the Democratic National Convention with 236, including separately chosen party and elected officials known as superdelegates, giving her a 100-delegate lead over Senator Barack Obama.

There will be nearly 1,700 Democratic delegates at stake on February 5, enough to put a candidate well on his or her way to the 2,025 needed to secure the nomination. But even if somehow either Clinton or Obama won every single one of those delegates, it wouldn't be enough. And with two strong candidates, the delegates could be divided fairly evenly because the Democrats award their delegates proportionally in each state — not winner take all.

The Republicans have a better chance to produce a clear front-runner because several states, including New York, New Jersey, Missouri and Arizona, award all their Republican delegates to the candidate who wins the popular statewide vote. But a Republican candidate would have to attract support across the country to build a formidable lead.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney leads the race for delegates to the Republican National Convention with 59. He is followed by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee with 40 and Arizona Senator John McCain with 36.

There will be more than 1,000 Republican delegates at stake on February 5, enough to give a candidate a substantial boost toward the 1,191 needed to win the nomination — but only if one man emerges victorious in numerous states.

Four years ago, Senator John Kerry clinched the Democratic nomination on March 2 — the earliest date in modern times — with a string of Super Tuesday primary victories. In 2000, George W. Bush and Al Gore both clinched their parties' nominations on March 14 with a string of Southern primaries that day.

However, "it may take a while for Obama or Clinton to get 50 percent plus one of the delegates. But if it does narrow to a two-person race, then the Democratic nomination will be determined relatively soon," said David Rohde, a political science professor at Duke University.