Unexpectedly, voters in Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania could be the decision-makers in the tight Democratic presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Landslide victories by Obama in a series of caucuses and primaries in the past week set the stage for all-out contests in the March 4 primaries in Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island and Vermont, and the April 22 Pennsylvania primary.

With John McCain appearing to lock up the Republican nomination, a big question for Democratic voters is which candidate they think can best defeat McCain and the Bush right-wing policies McCain represents.

Obama swept the Feb. 12 “Potomac Primary” in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia. Indicating the excitement the Democratic contest is generating, 70 percent of the more than two and a half million voters in these primaries chose a Democratic ballot.

Earlier, Obama won by landslides in Nebraska, Louisiana, Washington State and Maine over the Feb. 9-10 weekend. All were marked by unprecedented voter turnouts in big cities and rural areas, far exceeding the turnout on the Republican side.

In rural Nance County, Neb., 77 people braved bitter cold to attend the Feb. 9 Democratic caucus at the courthouse in Fullerton, the county seat. It was the largest Democratic turnout in the rockrib GOP county since 1970.

After a heartfelt discussion, 48 people voted for Obama and 22 for Clinton.

Mary Jean Hubben and her fiancé Jameson Los, who recently moved to Nebraska joined the Obama crowd. “One person said that usually we are choosing the ‘lesser of two evils.’ That’s not the case in this election. We have two highly qualified Democratic candidates,” Hubben told the World in a phone interview. “It was a fascinating discussion, much more charged than I had expected.”

A woman shed tears as she spoke of the quest to elect the first woman president. But Annette Dubas, a Nebraska state senator, replied, “I too have been waiting for a woman to be president but in the end I decided Obama is the unifying force” who can defeat the Republican nominee in November. It was discussion of Obama’s plan to pay youth $4,000 for community service so they can attend college that convinced the eight undecideds to vote for the Illinois senator.

As in Washington State, Obama won by a better than two-to-one margin, carrying every section of the state including Eastern Washington. Turnout was reported double and triple that of four years ago. Some locations had planned for hundreds of caucusgoers and were overwhelmed when more than a thousand showed up. Young people excited that they could have an impact on the nation’s politics came out in droves.

Obama was helped by Gov. Christine Gregoire’s endorsement along with backing from the 109,000-member Washington Service Employees International Union, the state’s largest union.

WSEIU spokesman Adam Glickman told reporters the decision to switch to Obama after John Edwards dropped out was a unanimous one by all the union’s locals. “There are two very strong candidates, both of whom are vast improvements over the current officeholder,” he noted.

Glickman said the union made thousands of calls to its members urging them to attend the caucuses, where convention delegates were selected.

Clinton had the backing of another major union in the state, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which has 25,000 members there. The union’s offices in Seattle served as a temporary campaign headquarters. The union used its 22-line phone bank in the week leading up to the caucuses to call Clinton supporters and urge them to vote.

As in Washington State and many other places, the huge turnout was largely spontaneous, but Obama’s campaign was also an awesome display of grassroots organizing, phone-banking and door-to-door canvassing in a massive get-out-the-vote drive in cities like Baltimore. A CNN comparison of votes for Clinton, Obama and McCain showed that Obama drew more votes than Clinton and McCain combined.

In another significant Maryland race, in the Prince Georges County Democratic primary, Donna Edwards, an African American woman backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers and Service Employees unions, trounced Rep. Albert Wynn, the only Congressional Black Caucus member to vote for Bush’s Iraq war and bankruptcy law.

greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com. John Wojcik contributed to this article.