Rivals in Dead Heat Before U.S. Vote

ST. LOUIS -- U.S. Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were in a dead heat a day before the biggest round of presidential voting so far.

With 24 states holding nominating contests Tuesday, the candidates crisscrossed the country, leading rallies and urging supporters to get out and vote.

The Democratic race narrowed to almost a draw in national polls, while John McCain hoped to win enough delegates to the Republican convention to be the party's nominee in the November presidential election.

Obama held a slight lead in California, the biggest prize of all where Clinton once led, and was virtually tied with her in New Jersey and Missouri, three of the states voting on "Super Tuesday," in a Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll released Sunday.

Obama picked up a high-profile endorsement in Los Angeles when Maria Shriver announced her support for him -- a few days after her husband, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, endorsed McCain. Shriver's uncle, Senator Edward Kennedy, and cousin, Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of former President John F. Kennedy, announced their support for Obama last week.

"I thought, if Barack Obama were a state, he'd be California," Shriver said. "Diverse. Open. Smart. Independent. Bucks tradition. Innovative. Inspiring. Dreamer. Leader."

While Obama and Clinton vied to win the most delegates, they also were making the argument of being the most electable candidate to face McCain in November.

Clinton, a target of conservatives since being first lady in the 1990s, said her record was well known and she had already weathered heated attacks, while Obama, a first-term senator from Illinois, was still an unknown quantity.

"My opponent hasn't had to go through that kind of baptism by fire," the New York senator told a St. Louis rally. "This is going to be open season once again, and we need to nominate someone with the experience and the fortitude and the know-how to take whatever they send our way and send it right back."

Obama pointed to support from independents and young people and said he would not have to defend a Senate vote authorizing the war in Iraq, like Clinton.

"If John McCain is the [Republican] nominee, then the Democratic Party has to ask itself, do you want a candidate who has similar policies to John McCain on the war in Iraq or someone who can offer a stark contrast?" Obama asked a rally in Wilmington, Delaware.

McCain, an Arizona senator, held a 2-to-1 margin in a new national Washington Post-ABC poll. In the Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll, McCain held double-digit leads in New York, New Jersey and Missouri but narrowly trailed former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in California.

McCain invaded Romney's home turf on Sunday night, visiting a pub in Boston as the city halted to watch the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl football championship.

"We think we've got a great chance," McCain said. "We think we may be able to really finish this up Tuesday."