COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Barack Obama appeared poised Monday to trounce Hillary Clinton in Tuesday's "Potomac primary," as polls showed him with huge leads in Maryland and Virginia.
Obama, fresh from five weekend wins over Clinton in Louisiana, Washington state, Nebraska, Maine and the U.S. Virgin Islands, is hoping to add enough of the 168 delegates who are at stake in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia to unknot the two Democrats' virtual tie. He also hopes that big wins Tuesday will enhance his campaign's momentum ahead of the showdowns March 4 in Texas and Ohio.
Clinton, who campaigned Monday at a General Motors transmission plant in suburban Baltimore, tried to project that she was strong and on the march.
"I feel good about where we are," the New York senator said, reminding her audience that "I'm still ahead in the popular vote and delegates."
However, while Clinton tried to sound upbeat, her campaign tried in advance to discount the impact of Tuesday's primaries by focusing on March 4. Meanwhile, an enthusiastic crowd of about 17,500 greeted Obama at the University of Maryland's Comcast Center.
"It looks like we're having March madness a little early," the Illinois senator told supporters at the basketball arena. He talked about cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, ending the Iraq war and taking on Clinton.
The audience was wowed. "Amazing. He's an inspiring figure," said Wayne Shaw, 37, a project manager for a satellite communications company.
On the Republican side, Arizona Sen. John McCain is expected Tuesday to add to his big delegate lead over former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
McCain's strengths in the region are clear: Maryland and Virginia have large military and veteran populations. In Virginia, registered voters can vote in either party's primary, and polls have found that McCain's popularity among independents should help him.
McCain appeared unconcerned by his weak showing over the weekend, when he lost Louisiana and Kansas to Huckabee and barely won Washington state in a caucus whose outcome Huckabee is challenging.
"I never expected a unanimous vote, although I'd certainly like to have that. . . . I have something close to 800 delegates and last time I checked, Governor Huckabee had very few," McCain said in Annapolis, Maryland's capital. "So I think I'm pretty happy with the situation, although I recognize we have a lot of work to do."
Though polls show McCain far ahead, they suggest that blocs of voters still could change their minds, which means that Huckabee could benefit from a quadrennial phenomenon that occurs when voters aren't completely sold on their presumptive presidential nominees.
Analysts long have found that in later primaries and caucuses, voters will drift from the front-runners and cast "message" or protest votes, warnings of sorts to the potential nominees not to forget certain parts of their parties, in this case conservatives.
On Monday, Huckabee reiterated his intention to stay in the race until someone gets a majority of delegates. "Let's show them that the election isn't over until the people have spoken," he told backers at the Sheraton Richmond West Hotel.
Clinton explained Monday that she'd shaken up her staff Sunday, replacing campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle with longtime confidante Maggie Williams, after Doyle decided to step aside.
"This was Patti's decision," Clinton said. "This has already been a very long campaign. It does take quite a toll on the people who are directly involved, particularly those with families."
While such internal matters usually have little effect on voters — Ronald Reagan got rid of his campaign manager after losing the 1980 Iowa caucuses and went on to win the nomination — Clinton's reshuffling came on the eve of what could be a long day for her.
Clinton once had hopes of doing well in Maryland and Virginia. In Maryland, she had the backing of two of the state's most powerful Democrats, Gov. Martin O'Malley and veteran Sen. Barbara Mikulski.
However, a SurveyUSA poll taken Thursday and Friday found Obama with a 19 percentage-point lead, including a 71 to 18 percent advantage among blacks, who're expected to make up about 40 percent of Maryland's electorate.
In Virginia, Clinton's fortunes seemed a smidgeon less bleak, as a Mason-Dixon poll released Sunday found Obama ahead by 16 points. An 82 to 9 percent advantage among black voters, who're expected to account for about 30 percent of Tuesday's total, is fueling his popularity.
"Of the two states, Clinton probably has a better shot in Virginia," said Brad Coker, the managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research.
He cited the working class, largely rural communities in southwest Virginia as potential Clinton country. But about half the state's Democratic vote is expected to come from the eastern side of the state, where Obama has a huge lead.
Clinton's camp tried Monday to convince voters and analysts to look beyond not only Tuesday's contests but also Wisconsin's primary Feb. 19, even though last week's American Research Group poll gave her a 9-point lead there. She and her aides said she'd focus primarily on March 4, when Texas, Ohio, Vermont and Rhode Island vote. A total of 370 delegates will be at stake then.
"You all knew what the likely outcome of those recent contests were," Clinton said. Many of her losses came in caucus states, she said, and "it doesn't surprise me. It doesn't affect me one way or the other."
(Margaret Talev and Matt Stearns contributed to this article.)