Washington Sen. John McCain seized command of the race for the Republican presidential nomination Tuesday night, winning delegate-rich primaries in all regions of the country. Democratic rivals Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama traded victories in an epic coast-to-coast struggle with no end in sight.
Clinton won the biggest state, California, for the Democrats, capitalizing on support from Hispanic voters.
McCain led the Republican race in the Golden State, hoping to inflict a crushing blow on his closest pursuer, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
"We've won some of the biggest states in the country," McCain told cheering supporters at a rally in Phoenix after pocketing victories in all regions. An underdog for months, he proclaimed himself the front-runner at last, and added. "I don't really mind it one bit."
With 497 delegates, the Arizona senator was more than 40 percent of the way to the 1,191 needed for the nomination - and far ahead of his rivals in that competition that counted most.
Even so, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney said they were staying in the race.
Neither Clinton nor Obama proclaimed overall victory on a Super Tuesday that sprawled across 23 states, and with good reason.
"I look forward to continuing our campaign and our debate about how to leave this country better off for the next generation," said the former first lady, looking ahead to the primaries and caucuses yet to come.
Obama was in Chicago, where he told a noisy election night rally, "Our time has come. Our movement is real. And change is coming to America."
McCain, the early Republican front-runner whose campaign nearly unraveled six months ago, won in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Missouri, Delaware and his home state of Arizona - each of them winner-take-all primaries.
Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, won a series of Bible Belt victories, in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee as well as his own home state. He also triumphed at the Republican West Virginia convention, and told The Associated Press in an interview he would campaign on. "The one way you can't win a race is to quit it, and until somebody beats me, I'm going to answer the bell for every round of this fight," he said.
Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, won a home state victory. He also took Utah, where fellow Mormons supported his candidacy. His superior organization produced caucus victories in North Dakota, Montana, Minnesota and Colorado, and he, too, breathed defiance. "We're going to go all the way to the convention. We're going to win this thing," he told supporters in Boston.
Democrats played out a historic struggle between Clinton, seeking to become the first female president and Obama, hoping to become the first black to win the White House.
Clinton won at home in New York as well as in California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Arizona and Arkansas, where she was first lady for more than a decade. She also won the caucuses in American Samoa.
Obama won Connecticut, Georgia, Alabama, Delaware, Utah and his home state of Illinois. He prevailed in caucuses in North Dakota, Minnesota, Kansas, Idaho and Colorado, all caucus states.
After an early series of low-delegate, single-state contests, Super Tuesday was anything but small - its primaries and caucuses were spread across nearly half the country in the most wide-open presidential campaign in memory.
The result was a double-barreled set of races, Obama and Clinton fighting for delegates as well as bragging rights in individual states, the Republicans doing the same.
Polling place interviews with voters suggested subtle shifts in the political landscape, potentially significant as the races push on through the campaign calendar.
For the first time this year, McCain ran first in a few states among self-identified Republicans. As usual, he was running strongly among independents. Romney was getting the votes of about four in 10 people who described themselves as conservative. McCain was wining about one-third of that group, and Huckabee about one in five.
Overall, Clinton was winning only a slight edge among women and white voters, groups that she had won handily in earlier contests, according to preliminary results from interviews with voters in 16 states leaving polling places.
Obama was collecting the overwhelming majority of votes cast by blacks.
Clinton was gaining the votes of roughly six in 10 Hispanics, and she hoped the edge would serve her well as the race turned west to Arizona, New Mexico and California, the biggest prize with 370 delegates.
The allocation of delegates lagged the vote count by hours. That was particularly true for the Democrats, who divided theirs roughly in proportion to the popular vote.
Nine of the Republican contests were winner take all, and that was where McCain piled up his lead.
The Arizona senator had 371 delegates to 160 for Romney and 128 for Huckabee. It takes 1,191 to clinch the presidential nomination at next summer's convention in St. Paul, Minn.
Overall, Clinton had 436 delegates to 352 for Obama, out of the 2,025 needed to secure victory at the party convention in Denver. Clinton's advantage is partly due to her lead among so-called superdelegates, members of Congress and other party leaders who are not selected in primaries and caucuses - and who are also free to change their minds.
Alabama and Georgia gave Obama three straight Southern triumphs. Like last month's win in South Carolina, they were powered by black votes.
Democrats and Republicans alike said the economy was their most important issue. Democrats said the war in Iraq ranked second and health care third. Republican primary voters said immigration was second most important after the economy, followed by the war in Iraq.
The survey was conducted in 16 states by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International for The Associated Press and television networks.
Already, the campaigns were looking ahead to Feb. 9 contests in Louisiana, Kansas, Nebraska and Washington state and Feb. 12 primaries in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. And increasingly, it looked like the Democrats' historic race between a woman and a black man would go into early spring, possibly longer.