Hillary Clinton's camp vowed Sunday she will resist calls to abandon the White House trail after pivotal nominating contests in Ohio and Texas, where rival Barack Obama hopes to land a knockout.
The Democratic foes were rumbling across gritty midwestern Ohio, with polls showing the race deadlocked in the two states which could Tuesday decide the increasingly nasty Democratic race.
Obama ally, Senator Richard Durbin, suggested Clinton should rexamine her prospects after Tuesday's contests, which polls suggest she is unlikely to win in the landslides she needs to top his lead among Democratic delegates.
"I hope that there's an honest appraisal of her chances to win the nomination after Tuesday," Durbin told Fox News Sunday, as Democrats eye a general election clash with presumptive Republican nominee John McCain.
"And having made that appraisal... I hope she'll understand that we need to bring our party together and prepare for a victory in November, which is the ultimate goal."
Former Democratic candidate Bill Richardson meanwhile, yet to endorse either of his former rivals, also weighed in.
"D Day is Tuesday. We have to have a positive campaign after Tuesday," Richardson, who abandoned his own White House bid in January, said on CBS News.
"Whoever has the most delegates after Tuesday, a clear lead, should be in my judgment the nominee."
Obama strategist David Axelrod meanwhile warned on ABC "the hour is getting late. And I think the party is coalescing around a candidate who represents change and who can bring that case to John McCain."
But Clinton's communications chief Howard Wolfson was adamant the race would go on after Tuesday, into the next key showdown in Pennsylvania in April.
"What I'm saying is, we're going to have a great day on Tuesday. We're going to win this nomination. This nomination fight is going to go forward after Ohio and Texas," he said on ABC television.
"We're going to go to Pennsylvania, where a lot more Americans are going to vote, and we're going to be the nominee in Denver."
Clinton on Sunday cranked up her attacks on first-term senator Obama's capacity to serve as commander in chief.
"You never know what crisis is going to happen," Clinton said in Austintown. "I know that I will be able to defend our country."
Earlier, she had told fired-up supporters in another Ohio town, Westerville, that "this is a wartime election."
"For some people, this election is about how you feel. It is about speeches. That is not what it is about for me," she said. "It is about solutions."
Fleshing out her claims to be a battler for everyday Americans, Clinton appeared in this suburb of Youngstown with hometown boy and world Middleweight boxing champion Kelly 'the Ghost' Pavlik, who declared her "my kind of fighter."
The latest count of nominating delegates by website RealClearPolitics shows Obama leading by 1,389 to Clinton's 1,279, with the freshman senator pulling into the lead after 11 nominating wins in a row.
A total of 2,025 delegates is needed for victory at the Democrats' August nominating convention in Denver.
Tuesday's votes look unlikely to change that picture much, given that Democratic primaries award delegates on a proportional basis.
A new poll by Ohio's Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper found Senator Clinton slightly ahead in the economically struggling state, by 47-43 percent.
Senator Obama led in Texas by 46-45 percent, according to polling by McClatchy Newspapers, MSNBC television and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
The results were within the four-point margin of error for both polls.
Wolfson meanwhile raised questions about Obama's links to a Chicago property developer, Antoin Rezko, whose federal trial for corruption is set to open on Monday.
But Axelrod said the Rezko affair had been "thoroughly reviewed" by the Chicago and national press.
"No one has asserted any wrongdoing on the part of Senator Obama," he said, while demanding that Clinton release her recent tax returns, and records from her time as first lady.
McCain, a Vietnam war hero and foreign-policy veteran, looks set to seal the Republican nomination on Tuesday by eliminating the pesky challenge of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.
Copyright 2008 AFP.