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Candidates gear up for Super Tuesday

  • Story Highlights
  • Candidates stumping for last-minute votes before Super Tuesday
  • 24 states hold contests February 5
  • Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama receive several key endorsements
  • McCain and Mitt Romney unveil seven-figure TV ad buys
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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Republican and Democratic candidates are ramping up TV ads, racking up endorsements and heading West to stump for votes ahead of next week's Super Tuesday contests.

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, along with Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, Friday won the backing of the Los Angeles Times, one of the most-read newspapers in the United States and especially in delegate-rich California.

In separate editorials, the paper praised Obama as an "inspiring leader who cuts through typical internecine campaign bickering," and McCain as a consistent conservative with "fundamental individualism."

Both presidential endorsements are the paper's first since 1972.

Obama also collected some other key endorsements.

MoveOn.org, the liberal political action committee that claims more than 3 million members, endorsed Obama's White House bid -- the first time the group has made a primary endorsement.

The endorsement came after the group allowed its members to vote over the last two days on either Obama or rival Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Obama beat the New York senator 70 percent to 30 percent. "Our members' endorsement of Sen. Obama is a clear call for a new America at this critical moment in history," said Eli Pariser, MoveOn.org's executive director.

In Sacramento, one of California's largest unions, the Service Employees International Union, threw its support to Obama, spokeswoman Jeanine Meyer Rodriguez told The Associated Press.

The 650,000-member union's backing could help Obama cut into Clinton's lead in California polls of Democratic base voters, many of whom are union members -- a constituency known for doing door-to-door campaigning.

The service employees union includes city, county and state workers, as well as in-home support and health care workers.

Union officials will urge their members to vote for Obama, but said they do not plan to do a wider get-out-the-vote campaign.

Obama, fresh off these endorsements, held an economic roundtable and rally in New Mexico -- a state that has the highest proportion of Latinos in the United States.

Also on Friday, talk-show host Oprah Winfrey was confirmed as the headliner of an Obama event in Los Angeles Sunday, two days before Democrats in California and 21 other states head to the polls.

The event will mark Winfrey's return to the campaign trail two months after the media mogul stumped for Obama in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, drawing record-breaking crowds and heavy media coverage.

Obama's wife, Michelle, and Caroline Kennedy will also attend the Sunday event, though Obama is scheduled to be in Delaware that day.

Clinton, meanwhile, after completing nearly a dozen local satellite interviews Friday in Super Tuesday states, was in California attending "Solutions for America" town hall meetings in San Diego and San Francisco, followed by a "Low-Dollar fundraiser," also in San Francisco.

In somewhat of a shocking "endorsement," conservative commentator Ann Coulter said Thursday she is prepared to vote for Clinton over McCain in a general election matchup.

In a television interview on Fox News, Coulter took aim at the GOP front-runner and suggested he was little more than a Republican in name only.

"If you are looking at substance rather than if there is an R or a D after his name, manifestly, if he's our candidate, than Hillary is going to be our girl, because she's more conservative than he is," Coulter said. "I think she would be stronger on the war on terrorism."

McCain, who has come under criticism from pundits like Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, was endorsed Friday by former presidential candidate Steve Forbes in Missouri, where McCain was attending campaign rallies in Chesterfield and Villa Park.

Forbes is the latest former Rudy Giuliani supporter to sign up with McCain. Earlier Friday, former Solicitor General Ted Olson, a onetime supporter of Giuliani's failed White House bid, announced he was backing McCain.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is McCain's chief Super Tuesday rival. Based on a review of the Super Tuesday map, polling and delegate rules, CNN's John King said the Romney campaign has little room for error. Video Watch CNN's coverage of candidates campaigning »

"We divided the nation in three major parts. One are states we think we've got a pretty good chance of picking them up, others are states where we are highly competitive and there are others that are real long-shot states," Romney said Friday in Long Beach, California.

Romney criticized McCain Friday, and said McCain's tactics are reminiscent of the Nixon days. Romney also said he would have liked California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's endorsement.

Romney also campaigned Friday in Colorado, in what may be an effort to appeal to the state's large swath of self-identified members of the religious right.

In 2004, they comprised roughly one-quarter -- or 26 percent -- of the Republican primary electorate. Self-identified conservatives comprised 63 percent of the Republican primary electorate during the same year.

On Saturday, Romney, a Mormon, heads to Salt Lake City, Utah, for the funeral of Mormon Church President Gordon B. Hinckley, followed by weekend campaign events in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Chicago, Illinois; and St. Louis, Missouri.

On Tuesday, he will stump in West Virginia and later head home to Boston, Massachusetts, to vote and hold "a victory party."

Romney's strategy seems to be cutting into former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's support among evangelicals, which could help his chances of beating McCain.

On Friday, Huckabee returned to his geographical roots, stumping in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for a rally and attending several rallies in northwest Arkansas and Springfield, Missouri.

Rep. Ron Paul of Texas Friday attended a meet and greet followed by a rally in Colorado.

All of the candidates are increasing TV advertising in several of the delegate-rich states.

McCain is poised to make a "significant" Super Tuesday ad buy that will put his television commercials on the air in about 20 states -- every Super Tuesday state except Utah, campaign sources said.

McCain's campaign said the ad is called "true conservative," and it seems intended to counter several conservative pundits' concerns over his credentials.

The ad touts McCain's "commitment to conservative principles on economic, social and national security issues as well as his readiness to lead as commander in chief on day one," the campaign said.

The sources refused to give a specific dollar figure, but said it was a "seven figure" buy.

McCain, whose campaign of late has seen an infusion of cash after primary wins in South Carolina and Florida, spent close to $2 million on ads in Florida the week before that state's crucial primary.

The news comes the same day Romney announced his campaign was making a significant ad buy in California and some other Super Tuesday states.

"I don't think it's possible to flood the airwaves in 22 states," Romney said. "I have authorized a seven-figure -- I won't give you the exact number -- but seven-figure advertising buy for our campaign. We talked about which states they'll be -- California is among the states."

Romney said his campaign is still deciding on what kind of ads it will run -- whether the spots will target McCain or whether they will instead focus on Romney's record and biography.

The money needed for these ads will come from recently reported 2007 fourth quarter financial filings. Romney's campaign announced it had raised more than $27 million.

But $18 million of that was loaned by Romney to his campaign, meaning $9 million came from contributions. Romney has poured more than $35 million of his own money into his campaign.

On the Democratic side, Obama's campaign said it raised $32 million in the month of January. That total roughly equals his previous best three-month fundraising haul.

The campaign would not divulge how much money it has on hand, which is a more accurate measure of a campaign's financial health.

A campaign source said Obama received contributions from 170,000 new donors in January.

Clinton has spent $2.4 million in advertising in the last seven days statewide in California, CNN has learned.

On Monday, she will hold a town hall meeting to be aired on the Hallmark Channel and streamed online at her Web site.

Her campaign Web site says Clinton will "anchor the town hall in New York, while President Bill Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, and national and local surrogates will serve as hosts at events in other states."

On Sunday, Bill Clinton will take a much less prominent campaign role, watching the Super Bowl with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson in Red River, New Mexico.

An endorsement from Richardson, a Hispanic who holds sway in the community, is much sought, but a top Democratic source described the Sunday meeting as "two old friends getting together, and not to be construed as a coming endorsement."

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Nonetheless, Richardson is aware of the power of that picture. The former president has reportedly been phoning Richardson "with regularity" since he dropped out of the Democratic presidential race.

Richardson spokesman Paul Shipley said the office does not comment on the governor's private schedule. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Dana Bash, John King, Suzanne Malveaux, Candy Crowley, Anastasia Diakides, Alex Mooney, Alexander Marquardt and Chris Welch contributed to this report.

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