McCain claims front-runner status; Dem race not settled

Sen. John McCain of Arizona picked up big wins Tuesday night.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona picked up big wins Tuesday night.

Sen. John McCain cemented his Republican front-runner status Tuesday, piling up big wins coast-to- coast, according to CNN projections.

Democratic voters remain evenly split on Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama for their party's nomination.

The presidential races head to key primaries in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia next Tuesday. The candidates hope to gain momentum for those with victories in the Louisiana primaries and Washington state caucuses on Saturday.

Both the Obama and Clinton campaigns acknowledge an edge to Obama in those races. Clinton will focus on March 4 primaries in Texas and especially Ohio, said the Web site Politico's executive editor Jim VandeHei.

"There are a lot of working-class whites [in Ohio] and she feels she does extraordinarily well with that demographic," VandeHei said on CNN's "American Morning."

On Tuesday night, Obama won more states, but Clinton won states with higher delegate counts.

McCain capped the night by taking California and all its 170 delegates.

But even with the California bounty, McCain is just over halfway to getting the 1,191 delegates needed for the GOP nomination.

The Democratic race is even further away from a clincher. Although Clinton holds a slight lead over Obama in delegates, she has fewer than half of the 2,025 needed for the nomination.

After having been nearly written off last summer, the Arizona senator finally felt comfortable enough to call himself the leader of the pack.

"Tonight I think we must get used to the idea that we are the Republican Party front-runner for the nomination of president of the United States. And I don't really mind it one bit," he said as results came in Tuesday.

On the Democratic side, Clinton took California, according to CNN projections. There were 1,681 delegates at stake on Super Tuesday for the Democrats.

Most Republican contests are winner-take-all, but most Democratic contests are awarded proportionally, based on the number of congressional districts won.

Clinton took the larger share of California's 370 Democratic delegates.

"We know what we need is someone ready on Day One to solve our problems and seize those opportunities," Clinton said Tuesday. "Because when the bright lights are off and the cameras are gone, who can you count on to listen to you, to stand up for you, to deliver solutions for you?"

McCain also won Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Delaware and Arizona, his home state, according to CNN projections.

McCain has gathered 514 delegates so far in his presidential campaign, including Tuesday night's projections. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has 177 delegates, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has 122.

In Georgia, Huckabee edged out McCain, who held a slim margin over Romney.

Romney won in Alaska, Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana and Utah.

"One thing that's clear -- this campaign's going on," Romney said. "I think there's some people who thought that it was all going to be done tonight, but it's not all done tonight. We're going to keep on battling."

In addition to Georgia, Huckabee picked up Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee and West Virginia.

Going into Super Tuesday, the Republican race had largely been viewed as a fight between McCain and Romney.

"Over the past few days, a lot of people have been trying to say that this is a two-man race. Well, you know what? It is, and we're in it," Huckabee said as the results came in.

In all, 1,020 Republican delegates were up for grabs Tuesday. To clinch the nomination, a candidate must win 1,191 delegates.

Tuesday's contests did not produce a front-runner on the Democratic side.

"Our time has come, our movement is real and change is coming to America," Obama said Tuesday. "We are more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and always will be the United States of America."

The biggest prizes that Obama won were his home state of Illinois and Georgia, and a larger share of the 288 delegates in those states.

Obama also won Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota and Utah. Between those states, he would be awarded the larger share of 278 delegates.

Clinton was also projected to win her home state of New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, and the larger share of the 329 delegates at stake in those states.

Clinton also won Arizona, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee, and the larger share of the 235 delegates in those states.

Republican conservative voters appear to be evenly split between Romney and Huckabee, according to preliminary exit polls of Super Tuesday voters.

Of those who voted for Huckabee or Romney, about 80 percent identified themselves as conservative, according to the polls.

Only 49 percent of McCain's voters said they were conservative, a sign that the Arizona senator's efforts during the past week to placate conservative voters have not paid off.

On the Democratic side, those who made up their mind in the past three days appear to be torn between Obama and Clinton. According to the exit polls, Obama and Clinton are essentially splitting those voters, with 47 percent going for Obama and 46 percent for Clinton.

On the Republican side, front-runners McCain and Romney have engaged in bitter exchanges over their conservative records in recent weeks.

CNN's Bill Schneider contributed to this report.