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Clinton victories in Texas and Ohio give McCain time to craft his message

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Still, the Democrats head toward the general election with some strong advantages, starting with the weakening economy and the unpopular war in Iraq, which McCain fervently backs. Democrats have also far surpassed the Republicans in fundraising and primary turnout, a sign of their eagerness to put a Democrat in the White House after eight years of George W. Bush. The danger for the Democrats is that their nomination battle could get ugly, leading supporters of the losing candidate to stay home in November.

Democrats argue that their nomination contest ensures that their nominee will be battle-tested for McCain in the fall. Moreover, voters appear to have the appetite for an extended race. According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Tuesday, some 67 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents believed Clinton should stay in the race even if she won just Texas or just Ohio.

"I think voters would be resentful if the party called it off," says Linda Fowler, a government professor at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., noting the high turnout in states unaccustomed to having a role in the primaries. "From the voters' perspective, all this intensive organizing at the grass-roots level is to the good."

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