Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton was on the verge Monday of clinching the Democratic presidential nomination -- a prize whose value has changed greatly since he first began the primary race four months ago.
Clinton was still a few hundred delegates short of the 2,145 needed to be nominated at the Democratic National Convention in July, but he was certain to pick up enough in six primaries Tuesay to go over that number.
California, Ohio, New Jersey, Alabama, New Mexico and Montana hold the final primaries of the 1992 campaign with 700 Democratic delegates at stake.
President Bush also was expected to sweep through the Republican primaries in those states but he clinched the GOP nomination weeks ago.
Bush and Clinton survived the long primary battle that began in New Hampshire in February, but instead of looking forward to a long face-to- face battle they now have another foe who is changing the landscape of American politics.
Ross Perot, the Texas billionare who says he will run as an independent if supporters get him on the ballot in all 50 states, continues to build momentum and leads both Bush and Clinton in several major polls.
Perot is not on the ballot Tuesday but he has been getting a large number of write-in votes in recent primaries or else has been sending voters into the uncommitted column.
A new ABC/Washington Post poll showed Perot with 36 percent of the vote, ahead of Bush at 31 percent and Clinton at 27 percent.
Clinton had hoped to end the primary season as the outsider and alternative to Bush but instead sees much of that role falling on Perot's shoulders.
In fact, during a period when Clinton should have been defining his image and personality, he has found himself being relegated to the back pages as Perot grabs the headlines without even being a candidate.
Clinton spend the last day before the primaries donning a blue collar in Oakland, Calif., and saying the Bush administration has shortchanged the nation's working class.
'Over the last two years, the state of California lost half a million jobs,' Clinton said. 'Over the last 10 years, the middle class has gone downhill ... Poverty is on the rise among the working people, that is the legacy of the last 10 years ... We have to work for change.'
And Bush, whose approval ratings were near 90 percent little more than a year ago, has found his popularity dropping and many of the white suburban voters who he hoped to attract going to the Perot camp.
The inability to stem the drop in the polls has caused many in the White House and the Republican Party to seek a change in the people running the Bush campaign.
Speculation has centered on the possibility of Secretary of State James Baker, Bush's long-time friend, leaving his Cabinet post to take over running the campaign, much as he did in 1988.
The State Department went out of its way Monday to say there were no such plans in the works.
'The president and secretary of state have never had a conversation about a possibility of the secretary of state resigning,' department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said. 'Nothing here to talk about ... this is all pure speculation .... there is nothing factual to any of these stories.'
Perot's rise also has taken its toll on the two other major party candidates -- political commentator Patrick Buchanan on the Republican side and former California Gov. Edmund 'Jerry' Brown on the Democratic side.
At one point in the primary season, both had been given a chance of winning the big California primary, mostly as a protest candidate against the front-runners.
But with Perot taking over that role, both candidates have become more irrelevant.
Brown spent another day campaigning in California Monday but his staff said he planned to leave the country right after the primary to attend the environmental conference in Rio de Janerio.
'What Bush is doing is morally irresponsible,' Brown said at a rally near the Golden Gate bridge. 'The destruction of the environment is occurring because government leaders like Bush are not standing up to polluters. Bush is a disaster.'