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SCRAMBLING FOR PRIMARY EDGE

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and her advisers increasingly believe that she has been boxed into a must-win position in the Ohio and Texas primaries on March 4, and she has begun reassuring anxious donors and superdelegates that the nomination is not slipping away from her, aides said Monday.

Clinton held a buck-up-the-troops conference call Monday with donors, superdelegates and other supporters. Several said afterward that she sounded tired and a little down, but determined about Ohio and Texas. They also said that they had not been especially soothed and that they believed she might be on a losing streak that could jeopardize her competitiveness in those states.

With primaries today in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, Clinton advisers were pessimistic about her chances, though some held out hope for Virginia. Obama victories would give him a narrow but undisputed lead among pledged delegates, and he would have unmistakable momentum heading toward next week's primary in Wisconsin and caucus in Hawaii.

Obama's financial edge allowed him to begin running TV ads in Ohio and Texas on Monday, while the Clinton campaign plans to begin advertising today.

GOP race: John McCain, a passionate advocate of limits on campaign finances, is turning down government matching funds for the primary to free him to spend more money as he prepares for a general election contest. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said Monday that he will not step aside "as long as my guys are still waving the pompoms. The goal is to win, and nobody has 1,191 delegates yet." McCain has 719; Huckabee has 234. Candidate Ron Paul said he will not back McCain if he is the nominee unless the senator "has a lot of change of heart."

General election poll: Obama has a narrow lead over John McCain in a potential presidential matchup, while Clinton is about even with the Republican front-runner, an Associated Press-Ipsos poll indicates. The survey is the first look at voter sentiment since last week's Super Tuesday contests and Mitt Romney's departure from the GOP race. Obama led McCain in the poll by 48 percent to 42 percent when people were asked which one they would prefer if the presidential race were held now. Clinton got 46 percent to McCain's 45 percent in their matchup. The survey was conducted Feb. 7-10 and involved telephone interviews with 1,029 adults. It had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

VOTES DON't COUNT: Acting Los Angeles County Registrar Dean Logan said Monday that an estimated 49,500 votes were cast incorrectly by nonpartisan voters in last week's presidential contest and that they cannot be counted because the voters' intentions were unclear. The mismarked ballots were the result of a confusing ballot design and poor education of poll workers and the public, Logan said, adding that the lost votes would not affect the allocation of Democratic Party delegates.

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