Sweet column: Michelle Obama calls herself “perhaps the next first lady.”

SHARE Sweet column: Michelle Obama calls herself “perhaps the next first lady.”

BETHESDA, Md. — At a rally at a high school here on Monday, an optimistic Michelle Obama called herself “perhaps the next first lady” as Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and their mega-surrogates skipped across the region stumping for Tuesday’s “Potomac Primary” in Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland with 168 delegates at stake.

In the past days, the Obamas and the Clintons — Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea — have worked the territory while behind the scenes, the fight for superdelegates steps up. No matter the outcome on Tuesday — and Obama is favored, because there is a large African-American and affluent population in all three jurisdictions — the delegate count is expected to remain close.

Coming off weekend victories in five contests, Obama was favored to win the primaries in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia thanks to a blend of black and better educated voters in those areas, blocs that have aided his wins in earlier matchups against Clinton. Likewise, McCain was favored on the GOP side.

Democrats picked 168 delegates and Republicans 116 in the Mid-Atlantic primaries.

”We need something new,” Obama told a huge rally at the University of Maryland on Monday, dismissing the former first lady’s suggestions that he is not tough enough for the rigors of the presidency.

The Illinois senator was traveling late Tuesday to Wisconsin, which votes next week, along with Hawaii, where Obama grew up.

With the Clinton campaign all but conceding losses Tuesday, as well as in other primaries during the month, the New York senator prepared to fly to Texas, which holds its primary on March 4. She is banking on strong showings there and in Ohio, which votes the same day, to blunt Obama’s momentum. AP

Obama will be in Wisconsin tonight; Clinton heads to Texas, with a March 4 vote. After a string of Obama victories and more expected today, Clinton’s “firewall” is the pair of delegate-rich March 4 states, Texas and Ohio.

Superdelegates — officials such as members of Congress, mayors, governors and past and present party officials — are delegates to the nominating convention in Denver who are free agents — not elected pledged to Clinton, Obama or anyone else. There are 795 of them (there were 796, but former Cook County Board President John H. Stroger Jr. died and will likely not be replaced), and there is a big push on to win commitments. Among Illinois officials, the only ones not pledged are Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), who has ties to both Obama and Clinton, and Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.).

Michelle Obama has been “making calls to key political targets across the country,” her spokesman said.

Meanwhile, Clinton and Obama stepped up their wooing of former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.). Last Thursday, Clinton made a secret trip to Chapel Hill, N.C., to meet with Edwards and wife Elizabeth. Obama was set for his own clandestine house call on Monday night; it was shelved after word leaked out all over the place. Obama told reporters the meeting will be rescheduled. Bill Burton said there was an unspecified “scheduling problem.”

An Edwards aide told me the reason for the meetings is to go over — again — a lot of what has been talked about, the commitment of the Democrats to fighting to eliminate poverty. Edwards wants to “gauge their commitment to the cause,” the staffer said.

Clinton and Obama have been wooing Edwards for weeks. Not clear when, or if, Edwards will make a move.

He has reservations about both of them, the staffer said, and they are this: “Can Clinton really be an agent for

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