Obama hopes to turn Potomac Tuesday into a rout

Democrat Barack Obama hopes to rout Hillary Rodham Clinton in presidential primaries in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia while Republican John McCain seeks to put more distance between himself and Mike Huckabee.

Coming off weekend victories in five contests, Obama was favored to win the Tuesday trio of primaries thanks to a blend of black and better educated voters in those areas, blocs that have aided his wins in earlier matchups against Clinton. Likewise, McCain was favored on the GOP side.

“We need something new,” Obama told a huge rally at the University of Maryland on Monday, dismissing the former first lady’s suggestions that he is not tough enough for the rigors of the presidency.

The Illinois senator was traveling late Tuesday to Wisconsin, which votes next week, along with Hawaii, where Obama grew up.

With the Clinton campaign all but conceding losses Tuesday, as well as in other primaries during the month, the New York senator prepared to fly to Texas, which holds its primary on March 4. She is banking on strong showings there and in Ohio, which votes the same day, to blunt Obama’s momentum.

“I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think I would be the best candidate,” Clinton told reporters Monday as she campaigned near Baltimore. “So I’m going forward — every day, we get to make our case to the American people.”

On the Republican side, McCain hoped to rebound with three wins Tuesday en route to his likely nomination. The Arizona senator lost contests in Kansas and Louisiana during the weekend, but managed a narrow win in Washington state caucuses that Huckabee is now challenging.

Both the Clinton and Obama campaigns prepared to launch television ads in Ohio and Texas on Tuesday, and added another debate to their schedule — Feb. 21 in Austin, Texas.

In hypothetical general election matchups, a new AP poll conducted after last week’s Super Tuesday contests found Obama edging McCain, 48 percent to 42 percent, while Clinton and the Arizona senator were tied — 46 percent for Clinton to 45 percent for McCain.

Despite what the poll numbers suggest, Clinton’s strategists argued that she would be the stronger competitor against McCain because she has stared down Republicans throughout her career in politics and public service.

Clinton “has withstood the full brunt of this kind of attack and will be able to neutralize what is likely to happen particularly with a nominee who is not as well known,” said strategist Mark Penn

“In a general election the Republicans would spring into action and quickly, if he were the nominee, roll out his full record,” Penn said of Obama.