McCain has racked up a big lead in a contest full of surprises [EPA]

Following the frenzy of Super Tuesday, the most important day in the US presidential election calendar so far, Al Jazeera examines the aftermath and what lies next in store for candidates from both parties.

As the dust settles and the results sink in, the US presidential campaign is moving into a new phase. 

The Democratic contest remains tight with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama virtually tied in the delegate race.

Clinton has won most of the big states, including New York and California, although Obama won more states overall. 

Exit polls indicate Clinton did well among older voters, women, and Hispanics. She also won in Massachusetts despite the high-profile endorsement of Obama by Edward Kennedy, the state's senator.

However, Obama scored big with male Democrats, African-Americans of both genders and younger voters, exit polls suggested.

'Potomac primary'

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And now the next clutch of primaries in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia are less than a week away.

Obama expects to do well in what pundits are dubbing the "Potomac primary" after the river that runs through the region.

Meanwhile, Clinton's camp is trying to lower expectations, saying it is likely Obama would win, but that they "expect good share".

Clinton is now setting her sights on Ohio and Texas - two big states that are due to vote on March 4.

Her campaign says she wants another debate with Obama before then.  

'Extraordinary night'

Evangelicals in the southern states flocked
to Huckabee's campaign [EPA]
Obama won 14 states in all on Tuesday night and he did well in southern states and the Midwest.

"We won big states and we won small states," Obama said on Wednesday. 

"We won red states and we won blue states and we won swing states. I believe that we had an extraordinary night."

Now, some analysts think the Democratic show may go on through April, May and June - maybe even longer.

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, John McCain, the Arizona senator, was the clear winner in the Republican race, winning in nine states - including New York and California - and racking up a big lead in delegates over rivals Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee.

Romney won five states, including Massachusetts, where he was governor, Utah, the headquarters of his Mormon faith, and Minnesota.

On Wednesday, McCain called for party unity and suggested that his most vocal right-wing critics should relax. 

"I do hope that at some point we would just calm down a little bit and see if there are areas that we can agree on for the good of the party and the good of the country," McCain said.

Conservative concerns

I'm disappointed on the Republican side - we were hoping for a conservative and Mr McCain is not conservative"

Peggy Shumway, Republican voter

Nonetheless, McCain lacks support among very conservative Republicans and evangelical Christians - the basic building blocks of the coalition that former White House political mastermind Karl Rove assembled to give George Bush two general election victories.

Evangelicals in the southern states of Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and West Virginia flocked to Huckabee on Tuesday. 

However, voters who identified themselves as very conservatives favoured Romney.

McCain's positions on immigration, tax cuts and campaign finance are anathema to conservative leaders and even Republican senate colleagues have criticised McCain for his short temper and aggressive attitude.

Some conservative voters say they cannot support McCain under any circumstances.

"I'm disappointed on the Republican side," Peggy Shumway of Virginia, who calls herself a conservative, told Al Jazeera.

"We were hoping for a conservative and Mr McCain is not conservative."

So, even as McCain savours his Super Tuesday victory, the unease and distrust he evokes among conservatives could spell serious trouble for his candidacy, should he become the Republican nominee.

Source: Al Jazeera