McCain's Unwavering Message Sustains Comeback

John McCain not only survived the early rounds of the presidential primary season but is on the verge of capturing the GOP nomination. Even when he was out of money and losing staff, the Arizona senator never lost faith.

And with wins in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida, he finds himself in the almost surreal position of GOP frontrunner.

Candidates Make Last Appeals to Voters

McCain

hide captionSen. John McCain (R-AZ) greets supporters during a campaign appearance at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn. on Jan. 3.

Mario Tama/Getty Images
Clinton

hide captionSen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) speaks during a roundtable discussion at Yale Child Study Center Feb. 4 in New Haven, Conn.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Romney

hide captionSupporters wait for the arrival of former Massachusetts Gov. and GOP hopeful Mitt Romney at the Pancake Pantry Feb. 4 in Nashville, Tenn.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Obama

hide captionSen. Barack Obama (D-IL) greets supporters during a rally at the IZOD Center on Feb. 4 in East Rutherford, N.J.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Huckabee

hide captionFormer Arkansas Gov. and GOP hopeful Mike Huckabee takes questions during the MTV/MySpace presidential forum on Feb. 2 in New York City.

Scott Gries/Getty Images

Voters in 24 states were set to shake up the presidential primary map in both parties on "Super Tuesday," with Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in a close fight and Republican John McCain hoping for a decisive victory over rival Mitt Romney.

More than half of the total Democratic delegates and about 40 percent of the GOP delegates are up for grabs.

Most opinion polls showed a tight Democratic race in many states. Among Republicans, Sen. McCain had solid leads in most of the big battleground states.

Competition is particularly fierce in delegate-rich states such as California, Illinois and New York. Eight of the 21 Republican contests are winner-takes-all affairs — in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Missouri, Arizona, Utah and Montana.

McCain Turns to the Party's Base

On the Republican side, 71-year-old Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has benefited from a changing political climate. The decline of violence in Iraq has persuaded some voters that McCain was right to support the troop surge, while others just see it as a less-pressing issue.

But McCain still has to win over conservative Republicans, who are alarmed by the same nonconformist streak that delights independents. McCain insists he can keep all the factions of the party together in the same big tent.

"We may have a disagreement on an issue or two. That's healthy. Wouldn't we be pretty boring if we agreed on everything?" he told Illinois Republicans at a recent dinner.

McCain has concentrated his campaigning in the Northeast, making stops in New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts.

Clinton Re-Emphasizing Softer Side

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton's recent campaign strategy has been to show voters more of her personality and try to reintroduce herself to the American public as a gentler figure — not necessarily someone who you would want to have beers with, but certainly someone who voters trust.

At a Super Bowl party in Minneapolis on Sunday, she talked about her efforts to define herself over the last month.

"I've been passionate about children's issues and women's issues and issues of justice, legal and economic, my entire life. And I think as the campaign went on, it became clear that I needed to demonstrate who I am as a total package. You know what I believe in, what I care about, why I do what I do, and I worked on that all year," she said.

After the Superbowl party in Minnesota, she returned to the Northeast for campaign stops in New Haven, Conn. at her alma mater, Yale, and in New York. Her husband and former President, Bill Clinton, campaigned on her behalf throughout California in Orange County, Sacramento, Stockton and San Francisco.

Romney Portrays Himself as Best Conservative Option

GOP rival and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is hoping to win the votes of conservative Southerners who may have supported former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson or former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani before they dropped out.

At a Nashville diner on Monday, he talked about his stance on immigration.

"Do you want a nominee who helped write McCain-Kennedy that gave amnesty to illegal aliens? No! Do you want a nominee instead who represents conservative principals and keep us inside the house that Ronald Reagan built?" he said.

But Nashville just one of many stops he made leading up to Super Tuesday, jetting between Tennessee, Georgia, Oklahoma, California and West Virginia.

Obama Looks Ahead to the November Election

On the Democratic side, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama campaigned in Connecticut. Recently, he has adopted a two-pronged strategy: first, to highlight the policy differences between him and rival Sen. Clinton on issues such as Iraq. Secondly, Obama talks about which candidate would do better against Republican front-runner McCain.

"I can offer a clear and clean break from the failed policies of George W. Bush. I won't have to explain my votes in the past," Obama said at a rally in Delaware — referring to Clinton's original support of the Iraq war.

Huckabee Stumps Throughout the South

One-quarter of the delegates at stake on Super Tuesday are in the South. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has been wooing the region's large number of evangelical voters, who helped him win the Iowa caucuses — his first and only win during the early voting contests.

But Huckabee has become more realistic as McCain and Romney's primary wins have mounted. After pumping up the crowd at the Chattanooga Convention Center, Huckabee told reporters that there are not a set number of delegates that he needs to win on Tuesday. The important part to focus on, he said, is that he is still in the game.

From NPR staff reports

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