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White House race narrows to twin 2-way fights as Edwards bows out, Giuliani next

White House race narrows to twin 2-way fights as Edwards bows out, Giuliani next

White House race narrows to twin 2-way fights as Edwards bows out, Giuliani next

Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen....


    WASHINGTON — The race for the White House narrowed abruptly Wednesday to twin two-way battles, party maverick John McCain the man to beat for the Republican nomination while the Democrats faced a historic choice between a woman and a black man.
    ‘‘I have the leadership and the conservative record,’’ declared McCain, closing in on the prize he has sought for most of a decade following his Florida primary triumph over Mitt Romney.
    Big names were falling fast. After more than a year of almost constant campaigning, Democrat John Edwards was suddenly out of the race, and Republican Rudy Giuliani wasn’t far behind, the latest casualties as the survivors sprinted toward next week’s Super Tuesday slew of primaries and caucuses across more than 20 states.
    Edwards said he was stepping aside ‘‘so that history can blaze its path,’’ a reference to a riveting contest between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama for the 2,025 delegates needed for the Democratic nomination.
    Giuliani, a former front-runner whose candidacy collapsed quickly once the primaries and caucuses began, endorsed McCain in glowing terms. The Arizona senator ‘‘is the most qualified candidate to be the next commander in chief of the United States. He is an American hero,’’ Giuliani said with McCain at his side in California.
    That left Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, confronting a decision on how many millions more of his own fortune — if any — to spend on an increasingly long-shot bid for the White House. Officials said options prepared for his consideration ran from a bare-bones efforts costing less than $1 million to a robust $7 million commitment, much of it ticketed for television commercials in California.
    Republicans converged on California for an evening debate involving McCain, Romney, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Texas Rep. Ron Paul. Republicans in 22 states select a total of 1,023 convention delegates next week.
    Obama and Clinton battled on roughly equal footing across a vast, uncertain political landscape, Democratic primaries in 15 states and caucuses in seven more plus American Samoa with 1,681 delegates at stake on Tuesday.
    Obama said it was time for a change, and he was the man to provide it.
    ‘‘I know it is tempting — after another presidency by a man named George Bush — to simply turn back the clock, and to build a bridge back to the 20th century,’’ he said in Denver.
    ‘‘... It’s not enough to say you’ll be ready from Day One — you have to be right from Day One,’’ he added in unmistakable criticism of Clinton and her husband, who pledged during his own presidency to build a bridge to the 21st century.
    The former first lady made a homecoming campaign swing through Arkansas, where she lived for 18 years, much of it while her husband was a popular governor.
    She called for a cap on credit card interest rates of 30 percent, to be lowered in the future, as well as new protections for consumers who use plastic. ‘‘We need more disclosure, more transparency,’’ she said. ‘‘We’ve got to go after this predatory lending.’’
    She also called for steps to make it harder for credit card companies to raise interest rates once a card is issued.
    Four weeks after the Iowa caucuses kicked off the nominating campaign, the effect of early contests has been the same in both parties — a steady winnowing of once unwieldy fields.
    The likelihood was for the party races taking diverging paths over the next several weeks, the odds favoring a quick end to the Republican race and a protracted Democratic struggle.
    Party rules alone make it unlikely that either the former first lady or Obama will emerge from next Tuesday with a commanding lead in the race for delegates. Unlike the Republicans, Democrats do not permit winner-take-all races.
    Instead, they award delegates proportionately on the basis of the vote in each congressional district on the ballot. There are 214 involved in next’s week primaries and caucuses, accounting for almost half the country. Depending on the closeness of the vote in a district, the winner and loser can easily emerge with the same number of delegates.
    The opposite is true in the Republican race, where the loser in a statewide race can come away with no delegates to show for their trouble.
    Thus, Arizona’s 53 delegates go to the top statewide vote getter — an obvious advantage for its home-state senator, McCain. So, too, New York, with 101 delegates awarded to the statewide winner, and Giuliani eager to make sure they, too, belong to McCain.
    Missouri (58 delegates), New Jersey (52) Connecticut (27) Delaware (18), also award all its delegates to the statewide winner, as do Utah (36), Montana (25) and Alaska (26).
    Romney’s political base of Massachusetts, with 40 delegates, is one of relatively few states to award delegates proportionately on the basis of popular vote.
    Several states award their delegates winner-take-all to the top vote-getter in each congressional district.
    Complicating Romney’s prospects is the continued presence of Huckabee in the race. The Baptist preacher-turned-politician has shown an ability to draw votes from evangelical conservatives, effectively splitting the anti-McCain vote.
    Edwards ended his second run for the White House as he began it, standing in a hurricane-ravaged neighborhood in New Orleans, pledging to make the fight against poverty ‘‘the cause of my life.’’
    There was a more practical side to his departure, though, as seen in the instant competition that sprung up between Clinton and Obama to win the allegiance of his fundraisers and supporters — if not Edwards himself.
    Addressing a small group of supporters, his wife and children at his side, Edwards said the remaining rivals had both pledged that ‘‘they will make ending poverty central to their campaign for the presidency.’’ But he endorsed neither.

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