Democrat rivals Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama Friday girded for a new round of nominating polls, scrambling for votes as President George W. Bush warned of high stakes in the White House race.
Neck and neck after a slew of votes in major nominating states on Tuesday failed to give either a strong edge, Clinton and Obama touted fundraising successes ahead of further votes this weekend.
With veteran Arizona Senator McCain all but guaranteed to win the Republican nomination after rival Mitt Romney quit on Thursday, pressure is on the Democrats to unite behind one candidate to fight the November elections.
Bush tried to whip up Republican support for the party presidential ticket likely to be headed by McCain, his one-time presidential rival, and cast the election as a referendum on his own policies such as the Iraq war.
"Prosperity and peace are in the balance," Bush told supporters.
"So with confidence in our vision and faith in our values, let us go forward, fight for victory, and keep the White House in 2008," he added.
Bush has not yet openly backed a candidate, but says he will get behind the Republican party's choice.
Clinton's campaign said it had refilled its war chest with eight million dollars in online donations and tens of thousands of new donors since Tuesday's key nominating votes in more than 20 states.
"Senator Obama's online contributions accelerated rapidly in the last 30 days," Clinton's communications director Howard Wolfson told reporters. "We have in the last several days considerably closed that gap."
Obama announced on Thursday he had raked in seven million dollars since Tuesday, ahead of huge primary nominating votes set for March 4 in Texas and Ohio and seven other nominating contests this weekend and Tuesday.
The former first lady was forced to lend five million dollars of her own money to her campaign this week.
"There's no doubt that she has not generated the kind of grassroots enthusiasm that we have," Obama told reporters Thursday. "And she's got a former president (Bill Clinton) actively fundraising for her."
Clinton's camp acknowledged they had been unable to match Obama's advertising in some upcoming states, which could play kingmaker in the tight race.
"Senator Obama may well have some advantage, but the amount of monies that the campaigns are going to spend on media will be roughly the same," Wolfson said.
"I do not anticipate that he will have any significant advantage in the March 4 states."
The 2008 White House race is already the costliest ever. The Center for Responsive Politics research group estimates the candidates will raise a billion dollars in 2008, a first for a presidential election.
And as the two chase support from the 2,025 delegates needed to secure the nomination at the party's August convention, every remaining primary now counts.
A tally by independent pollsters RealClearPolitics on Friday put Clinton only marginally ahead in the delegate count, with 1,077 to Obama's 1,005. More than 400 delegates are up for grabs in the seven upcoming votes.
Washington state and Louisiana vote on Saturday for both parties, while Nebraska holds Democratic primaries and Kansas Republican caucuses. Maine Democrats vote on Sunday, ahead of Tuesday when Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC hold Republican and Democratic primaries.
Clinton's camp accused Obama of shying away from debating her as the stakes rose, after calling for weekly debates up to March 4.
"Senator Obama has refused to debate Senator Clinton on a weekly basis this month, presumably because he is concerned that Senator Clinton is a better debater than he is," Wolfson said.
Obama had said that his main focus was getting out and meeting the voters, and agreed to join televised debates in Texas and Ohio.
Clinton's camp branded Obama not strong enough to fight an election against the Republican front-runner.
"If you are unwilling to debate Senator Clinton, you're going to have problems debating John McCain," Wolfson said.
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