Hillary Clinton swept past front-runner Barack Obama in Pennsylvania, giving a fresh lease of life to her crumbling White House hopes yet again, and declared the "tide was turning" in the increasingly bitter, roller-coaster Democratic race.
"Some people counted me out and said I should drop out," said the 61-year-old New York Senator who won 55 per cent of votes against Obama's 45 per cent in the state with 158 delegates up for grabs.
"But the American people don't quit and they deserve a president who doesn't quit either... Because of you the tide is turning," Clinton, flanked by her husband and former president Bill and their daughter Chelsea, told cheering supporters here who chanted "Yes, She Can" and waved placards that read "Smart Choice."
Clinton, who is bidding to be the first woman president, received the strong backing of women, older Americans and blue collar workers who have lost their jobs to outsourcing and overcame a massive advertisement blitz by Obama, 47, who outspent her cash-strapped campaign by 2 to 1.
With an impressive margin of 10 per cent, which political pundits had said was necessary for her to keep her bid alive, she has sent a message to the super delegates elected officials and party functionaries who may have the final say in deciding the nomination that she has the capacity to win the big states.
Obama, who is attempting to be the first African-American US president and is still ahead in the race by 1,705.5 delegates to Clinton's 1,575.5 with 37 delegates from Pennsylvania still to be awarded, said he was happy to narrow down her 20 point lead in the exit polls but targeted Clinton for her "terror tactics" and backing by lobbyists.
Other major contests won by her include Ohio, California, New Jersey and Texas.
"You can't be the champion of working Americans, if you're funded by the lobbyists who drown out their voices," Obama said in Indiana, where the next major primary would take place on May 6 along with North Carolina.
Targeting Clinton for last-minute measures, including an ominous ad that featured images of Al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden, Obama said: "We can be a party that thinks the only way to look tough on national security is to talk, and act, and vote like George Bush and John McCain. We can use fear as a tactic, and the threat of terrorism to scare up votes."
With only nine contests remaining till the August party convention, none of the candidates is expected the reach the magic figure of 2,025 needed to win the nomination for the November presidential election and it may go down to the 800 odd super delegates to chose the candidate.
The campaigns of two contenders, which the party analysts fear might have done damage and given ammunition to Republicans to fight whosoever finally become the Democratic candidate, seems to have polarised the voters on racial lines with 92 per cent of African Americans voting for the Obama and 55 per cent of white males supporting Clinton.
The African-Americans constitute only 13 per cent of total voters.
The Clinton campaign hopes that the victory would give it a much needed shot in arm and help it raise funds something it had been finding hard to do in recent months.
The opinion polls show that Obama is leading in North Carolina, which has substantial population of African-Americans and the two are in virtual tie in Indiana.
Obama moved to Indiana even before the results were announced to begin his campaign, but Clinton stayed in Philadelphia to celebrate victory amidst thousands of her supporters.
Clinton said Obama broke in Pennsylvania every spending record trying to knock her out of the race. "Well, people of Pennsylvania had other ideas," she said amidst shouts of "yes, you can."
Clinton repeated her line that as a president she would be ready to lead from day one. "That means ready to take charge as commander-in-chief and make this economy work for the middle class families."
Obama, who had gone to Evansville in Indiana to begin his campaign, told his supporters that he had done much better in Pennsylvania than expected and said his campaign had energised the younger generation by asking them to register in large numbers.
But Obama spent most of the address criticising presumptive Republican candidate John McCain. The Republican's election, he warned, would mean a "third term for President Bush's", a line he often takes.
But some analysts appearing on the television noted that Obama appeared somewhat tired compared with Clinton who looked relaxed and one of them questioned whether the peak of his campaign has passed.
Both repeated their promise to bring the US troops back home from Iraq, but Obama also said he would end the influence of lobbyists in Washington.
The Republican primary too was held simultaneously, but it evoked little interest as McCain has already collected enough delegates for the nomination and all his rivals have dropped out of the race.