Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Clinton of New York traded Super Tuesday victories in an expectedly tight Democratic race that has turned into a fierce battle for convention delegates.
Energized Democratic voters turned out in high numbers as an unprecedented 22 states held Democratic primaries and caucuses, but all those voters in all those states did little to determine a Democratic front-runner.
Obama appears to have won the most states, picking up victories in Illinois, Idaho, Colorado, Minnesota, Connecticut, Utah, North Dakota, Kansas, Delaware, Missouri, Georgia and Alabama, according to an analysis of exit polls and the vote count.
"We can take a punch, we're still standing," he told reporters in Chicago today, despite a brutal primary schedule that he said " was set up to deliver a knockout blow on Feb. 5"
Clinton won the delegate-rich states of California and New York, the largest and second-largest states to vote Tuesday night. Clinton also picked up victories in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Arizona, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Arkansas, where she and her husband have deep roots.
A record number of Hispanic voters — a key demographic targeted by Clinton — turned out to the polls in California, according to preliminary exit polls.
Neither Democratic candidate was able to declare a Super Tuesday victory, but Obama struck a defiant tone today, pointing out he is thriving even in the face of attacks from the Clinton campaign.
"The Clinton research operation is about as good as anybody's out there," he said. "I assure you that having engaged in a contest against them for the last year, that they've pulled out all the stops."
Obama and Clinton returned to Washington today to conduct Senate business, before returning to the campaign.
Despite trading victories with Obama, Clinton comes out of Super Tuesday the way she went in, leading in the delegate count. ABC News estimates that to date, Clinton now has 872 delegates, Obama has 793. You need 2,025 delegates to win the Democratic nomination. These numbers do not include delegates from too-close-to-call states like Missouri and New Mexico.
"We feel like we've had a good night, but this contest is far from over," Clinton's chief strategist Mark Penn told reporters.
Obama campaign manager David Plouffe countered: "We're having an outstanding night. We're ahead currently in the number of states won … and we think the delegates are very close."
On the Republican side, Arizona Sen. John McCain, securing his status as the clear GOP front-runner, won California, New York, Illinois, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Oklahoma, New Jersey and the classic bellwether state of Missouri, which has an excellent record for predicting political winners.
For more on the Republican race click HERE.
At a news conference today in Phoenix, before heading back to Washington, McCain sounded like a front-runner. "I am pleased with the depth and breadth of the victory," he said.
And he added that he looks forward to "wrapping this thing up as soon as possible." He also told reporters he can attract the more conservative voters that have drifted off to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. "I know we can unite the party," McCain said.