LOS ANGELES Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama seized on his endorsement by a leading anti-war group to disparage Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton's judgment on voting for war in Iraq, while the former first lady used the latest dire U.S. economic news to criticize President George W. Bush.
Obama's long-standing opposition to the war helped him pick up the backing of MoveOn.org, a liberal network that counts 3.2 million members.
The group said Friday that it has 1.7 million members in the 22 states scheduled to vote in Democratic primary races on Super Tuesday, and it would immediately begin a campaign to get them behind Obama.
The Super Tuesday contests are crucial for both the Democrats and the Republicans. For the Democrats, 1,681 delegates are at stake while 2,025 delegates are needed to secure the nomination. The Republicans have 1,023 delegates at stake, and 1,191 are needed to win that party's nomination.
Among the Republicans, McCain, the veteran senator and former Vietnam prisoner-of-war, has a solid lead over chief rival Mitt Romney. Romney is pressing on despite a painful loss this week in Florida's nomination contest.
Ahead of Super Tuesday, the Republicans were competing in a minor contest in Maine, where nonbinding caucuses were being held Friday though Sunday. Maine's Democrats will hold caucuses a week later.
McCain on Thursday picked up a key endorsement from California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and had earlier received the delegates from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani's failed presidential bid support that could be crucial in delegate-rich New York and California. On Friday, he picked up an endorsement from the Los Angeles Times.
Among California's Democrats, anti-Iraq war sentiment could play a role in voting. Obama lumped Clinton in with McCain on Friday as a supporter of the unpopular Iraq war. The pitch is a reminder of his early opposition, which has helped fuel his candidacy among anti-war voters.
"It is time for new leadership that understands the way to win a debate with John McCain or any Republican who is nominated is not by nominating someone who agreed with him on voting for the war in Iraq," Obama said Wednesday during a speech in Colorado.
He was referring obliquely to Clinton's vote in the Senate against a 2003 amendment that would have given U.N. weapons inspectors more time in Iraq and required Bush to first obtain U.N. approval before using force.
Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson said Clinton has the strength and experience to take on McCain on national security. He also said it is the New York senator who provides the starker contrast with McCain, because her health care plan would require coverage for everyone while Obama's would not.
Recently the war has become a secondary issue to the declining economy, on which Clinton outdistances Obama in the polls as the more experienced hand to guide the nation though financial turmoil.
Clinton seized on a new economic report Friday that showed that U.S. employers cut jobs in January the first such reduction in more than four years to highlight the failings of the Bush administration and advertise her own plan, which would include extended unemployment insurance and a 5-year interest rate freeze on subprime mortgages.
Obama latched onto the same dour report, saying Friday it drives home the need "to turn the page on the failed Bush policies of tax breaks for those who didn't need them and didn't ask for them."
Meanwhile, television talk show host Oprah Winfrey was returning to the campaign trail in support of Obama. Winfrey planned to hold a rally with Obama's wife, Michelle, and Caroline Kennedy daughter of former President John F. Kennedy on Sunday in Los Angeles. Winfrey held massive rallies for Obama in December in early voting states.
In an exceedingly tight Democratic race for the White House, Obama appears to have most of the momentum, including high-profile endorsements and impressive fundraising. In addition to the anti-war group, one of California's largest unions, the Service Employees International Union, decided Friday to support him, he also picked up endorsements from The Los Angeles Times and the New York City-based Transport Workers Union.
But Clinton has considerable institutional strength and is still widely favored to do better overall than Obama on Tuesday. Neither senator is expected to clinch the Democratic nomination in the votes, due to the close race and party rules that do not permit "winner take all" state contests like those of the Republicans.
Among the Republicans, McCain has taken the lead with his win this week in Florida, securing new momentum from the Schwarzenegger and Giuliani endorsements, and support from The Los Angeles Times.
Republican Mitt Romney is conceding the bulk of the Northeast to rival John McCain, counting instead on his home state of Massachusetts, a split in California and wins in a series of caucus states to extend his presidential campaign beyond Super Tuesday.
Romney had endorsements from The Denver Post and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.
Missing from Romney's latest campaign schedule were winner-take-all states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, which account for 180 of the 1,023 delegates at stake. The omissions were telling with voting in 21 Republican contests on Tuesday.
If he fails to capture enough delegates to offset McCain's likely wins in other states and strong showing in California, Romney could end his campaign.
McCain plans to aggressively compete in Massachusetts, reflecting a desire not just to beat Romney but bury him in his own backyard, a senior adviser said.
Countered Kevin Madden, a Romney spokesman: "If the McCain campaign wants to waste time and money ... I say 'be my guest.'"
After seven contests, Romney is down 83-59 with 1,191 national convention delegates needed to secure the nomination and 1,023 on the line Tuesday.
Republican Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and Baptist preacher who won Iowa, remains in the race, but has little money. Texas Rep. Ron Paul has made no move to withdraw even though he scores in single digits in voting.
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