EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – (AFP) – A surging Barack Obama revved up for the historic “Super Tuesday” national nominating showdown by wiping out White House foe Hillary Clinton’s once-gaping opinion poll leads.
Clinton, voice almost gone, worn down by sleepless nights and days on the campaign trail, wiped a tear from her eye as she visited Yale University, where her political journey started as an earnest 1970s student in bell-bottom pants.
“Well I said I would not tear up, already we are not exactly on the path,” said Clinton, 60, in an emotional moment, as she battled Obama for votes in northeastern Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Obama, 46, rocked a high-octane rally in New Jersey, a Clinton stronghold where he is increasingly competitive, showing few signs of fatigue and accusing his rival of being derisive about his clarion calls for change.
“If you will stand with me New Jersey, tomorrow, if you will vote for me, if you will cast off the fear and the doubt and the cynicism …. we will not just win in New Jersey, we will win all across this nation on Tuesday,” he said.
“We will win the nomination, we will win the general election, and you and I together, we will change this country and we will change the world,” said Obama, introduced to a 4,500 strong crowd by Hollywood icon Robert De Niro.
The cliffhanger Democratic race contrasted with signs that McCain would all but settle the Republican nominating fight Tuesday, to complete one of the most staggering comebacks in recent US political history.
“I’m guardedly optimistic,” the Arizona senator told reporters in Massachusetts, the home state of his top rival Mitt Romney, but said he would trust voters, not the polls.
A USA Today poll gave McCain a 42 percent to 24 percent lead over Romney, with former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, splitting the conservative vote, on 18 percent.
“Super Tuesday” states account for more than half the Democratic delegates and almost half of Republican delegates at party conventions in August and September, which formally nominate candidates for November’s general election.
There are 22 Democratic contests and 21 on the Republican side, with 19 states hosting nominating clashes for both parties.
A clutch of new polls showed the Democratic race as a neck-and-neck struggle between two rivals bidding for history, as the first woman, or African-American presidential nominee.
Clinton clung to a 45-44 point lead in a USA Today/Gallup national poll, while a CNN/Opinion Research national survey had her leading Obama 49 percent to 46 percent. A CBS/New York Times poll had the race deadlocked at 41 percent.
A significant battle was brewing in California, the biggest “Super Tuesday” prize, where Clinton has led for months, but Obama was drawing level, or even ahead in some polls.
Obama led the New York Senator 46 to 40 percent in California in a Zogby poll, and Rasmussen Reports had him up by one point, while others gave her a narrow lead.
A loss in California would be a hammer blow for the former first lady, though her campaign was banking on the fact that millions of people took advantage of early voting, before Obama’s latest poll surge.
Clinton led the Illinois senator 53 to 39 percent in her home state New York in a new Quinnipiac University poll: the same survey had the race narrowing in neighboring New Jersey with the former first lady leading 48 to 43 percent.
Her campaign was not publicly rattled by the Obama surge.
“During this whole election the polls have been all over the map. We expect it to be tight,” Clinton spokesman Doug Hattaway told AFP.
“There are battlegrounds stretching from Massachusetts to California, so it could be a real nail-biter,” he said.
The former first lady traveled to the Yale Child Study Center, where she studied law in the early 1970s, and her eyes brimmed with emotion as she was introduced by a former supervisor, lawyer Penn Rhodeen.
“After the cameras are gone and the lights are out, I’m going to do the same work as I did in my bell-bottoms…” she said, comparing her problem solving approach with Obama’s rhetoric and huge rallies.
The Democratic Party’s system of proportionally allocating delegates means no clear winner may emerge from Tuesday’s voting, and the historic Clinton-Obama race could drag on until at least March.