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 Wins California Primary
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."
McCain Emerges as GOP Front-Runner
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.
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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.
McCain is now piling up delegates. ABC News estimates McCain has secured 561 delegates to date to 222 for Romney. Huckabee stands at 172. To win the GOP nomination 1,191 delegates are needed.
Huckabee has also done better than expected, winning a surprise victory in West Virginia, winning Alabama, Tennessee Georgia, and his home state of Arkansas, based on exit poll analysis. Romney won victories in Colorado, Utah, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana and Massachusetts, according to exit poll analysis.
While McCain stands to cement his front runner staus in coming primaries, the Democratic delegate picture remains cloudy. On Saturday, Louisiana and Washington state hold two-party contests while Nebraska Democrats and Kansas Republicans make their picks. Then comes a larger series of two-party primaries in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia on Tuesday.
Clinton Boosted by Women's Turnout
In an encouraging sign for her candidacy, Clinton won Massachusetts even though Obama received endorsements from Massachusetts Sens. Ted Kennedy and John Kerry.
Exit poll results suggested Clinton owes her victory in the Bay State to a large turnout by women and a sizable gender gap -- with more women supporting Clinton and more men supporting Obama. Her victory in New Jersey is also being credited to a high turnout of women who supported her, according to exit poll analysis.
In his home state of Illinois, exit polls indicated that Obama claimed the majority of votes cast by white women, Clinton's core group in most states. In Georgia, 88 percent of the record turnout of black voters backed Obama, according to preliminary exit poll results, mirroring Obama's success among black voters in South Carolina.
Historic, Emotional Democratic Race
The Democratic race is a heated contest between Clinton, whose once commanding lead in key states diminished as Super Tuesday approached, and Obama, the charismatic senator who had mega-star supporters like Oprah Winfrey, Caroline Kennedy and California first lady Maria Shriver stumping for him this weekend.
Preliminary exit poll results suggest Obama's message of "change" resonated with Democratic voters today; they were twice as likely to say they are interested in the candidate who can best "bring needed" change over the candidate with the best experience and other attributes.
Hispanics and women -- two key demographics targeted by Clinton -- turned out in high numbers, according to preliminary exit poll results.
Clinton vs. Obama in Homestretch
But with the way results were shaping up, those looking for a clear front-runner to emerge in the Democratic race could be waiting for months.
"They're in a real dogfight," California-based Democratic strategist Bill Carrick told ABC News. "It's really going to be about who can grind it out, who can raise money and stay in the game the longest."
Both campaigns were managing expectations Tuesday, with Plouffe defining victory for Obama as being "close" to Clinton in pledged delegates by the end of the night, reports ABC News' David Wright and Sunlen Miller.
Meanwhile, Clinton's chief strategist Mark Penn told reporters even if Obama finishes the day having won more delegates, they are confident Clinton will maintain an overall delegate lead including superdelegates.
Battle for Delegates and Votes
Both the Clinton and Obama campaigns have vowed to fight all the way to the convention.
"We're both preparing for a long, drawn-out affair," Plouffe said today. "If it goes through June, it goes through June."
"We are looking at a fight that is going to go, as we've said, well beyond tomorrow, possibly decided in March, possibly decided in April, possibly not decided until the convention," Clinton's communications director Howard Wolfson said Monday.
At stake Tuesday were 1,681 convention delegates — 87 percent of the total needed to clinch the Democratic nomination.
Obama and Clinton are poised to split delegates in contests across the country because Democratic Party rules allocate most of the delegates proportionately. The delegates will be awarded to the contenders based on their shares of the popular vote.
Hot Races to Watch
Tuesday afternoon, Obama attempted to lower expectations for tonight's Super Tuesday results as he cast his balllot blocks from his South Side Chicago home.
"I still think Sen. Clinton is the favorite. She had 20-30-point leads in many of these states, we've been closing some ground," Obama said inside an elementary school. "My guess is we'll have a good night and we'll probably end up having a split decision."
Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, cast their votes early this morning in Chappaqua, N.Y.
"It's a very humbling and overwhelming experience to cast my vote today," she said.
After celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, California first lady Maria Shriver, Caroline Kennedy and Robert DeNiro stumped for Obama over the weekend, Clinton unleashed her own star power today with a robocall starring Oscar-winner Jack Nicholson.
"She never gives up, she never gives in and she's battle-tested," Nicholson says in an automatic call to Californians today. "She'll be a strong commander in chief, she has the experience to deal with the economic challenges we face as a nation today and in the future."
ABC News' Gary Langer, David Wright, Tahman Bradley, Eloise Harper and Sunlen Miller contributed reporting.