Washington: Voters went to the polls Tuesday in five northeastern US states, where strong showings by presidential frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump could propel them closer to clinching the Democratic and Republican nominations.
Should Clinton sweep the primaries in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware, it would put her on the cusp of Democratic victory against her rival Senator Bernie Sanders, a monumental step in her quest to become the nation`s first female commander-in-chief.
"I don`t have the nomination yet," the former secretary of state said in a town hall event in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania`s largest city, on the eve of the vote.
"We`re going to work really hard until the polls close."
Trump also was expected to extend his formidable lead in the bruising Republican race, even as rivals Ted Cruz and John Kasich mounted a hasty -- and already fraying -- tag team effort to block him.
Kasich agreed to forego campaigning in Indiana, a winner-take-all state that votes May 3, and Cruz will return the favor later in New Mexico and Oregon.
But within hours of the surprise deal, Kasich -- the governor of Ohio -- was already playing it down, saying he was not telling his supporters in Indiana not to vote for him.
"This joke of a deal is falling apart, not being honored and almost dead," Trump mocked on Twitter. "Very dumb!"Tuesday`s voting began at 6:00 am (1000 GMT) in Connecticut and one hour later in the other states. Polls close at 8:00 pm (0000 GMT Wednesday).
Voting was brisk in Maryland. "So far it looks good," said Lucy Freeman, 79, the Democratic precinct chair at a voting station in Chevy Chase, a Washington suburb.
New US citizen Imalka Senadhira, a 53-year-old born in Sri Lanka, was voting for the first time and said she was nervous about "which way the country might go."
"I`ve always believed in experience and wisdom, so I`ll go along with that," she told AFP.
Clinton was favored to win all five state Democratic contests, with polls giving her a double-digit lead over Sanders in Pennsylvania, the biggest state of the bunch with 189 delegates.
Should she run the board, it would heap pressure on Sanders, who has vowed to fight on until the California primary on June 7.
"I don`t accept there is no path forward. Let`s not count our chickens before they`re hatched," Sanders told MSNBC Tuesday.
Sanders has deflected recent questions about whether he would actively support a Clinton candidacy if she is the nominee, suggesting it was up to her to win over his passionate young followers.Trump was riding high going into the latest "Super Tuesday" contests.
"We feel very good about our position tonight," campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said Tuesday on CNN.
Trump himself had been in full attack mode a day earlier, pouring scorn on the Cruz-Kasich deal and describing it as "collusion."
The partnership "shows how weak they are," Trump said. "It shows how pathetic they are."
Cruz, a US senator from Texas, told potential voters in Indiana Monday that the deal would give them "a straight and direct choice between our campaign and Donald Trump."
According to a recent CBS poll, Trump leads Indiana with 40 percent of likely Republican voters, compared to 35 percent for Cruz and 20 percent for Kasich.
Losing Indiana would make it much harder for Trump to gain the 1,237 delegates needed to win the nomination in the first round of balloting at the party`s convention in Cleveland on July 18-21.
If he falls short, Trump runs the risk that his delegates, most of whom are bound to vote for him in only the first round, will desert him in subsequent rounds.
Lewandowski said that after Tuesday, Cruz and Kasich will both be mathematically eliminated from reaching the 1,237 threshold before the convention, and that they should both drop out and unite behind Trump.
But Cruz and Kasich have openly said they are now counting on a contested convention, where they have a shot at wooing enough delegates to snatch the nomination.
Cruz in particular has been successfully maneuvering in state party conventions to have individuals named to delegate slots who, though initially bound to Trump, would be sympathetic to Cruz in later rounds once free to vote for whomever they choose.
Party heavyweights, alarmed by the prospect of a Trump nomination, have long pressed for a united effort around a single candidate against him.
But Cruz is almost as unpopular with the party`s establishment as Trump, and Kasich has refused to bow out even though he has only won his home state of Ohio.