Top Democrats Strain to Keep Pace

By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 29, 2007

SAN DIEGO, April 28 -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) appeared here without her husband this weekend, but she did bring one of his trademarks: a hoarse speaking voice.

Clinton said she was fighting a cold. But at a news conference after her speech to the California Democratic Party Convention on Saturday, she acknowledged that the front-loaded 2008 primary schedule is putting a strain on her candidacy.

Having California, New York and other big states move up their primaries to Feb. 5 "puts an extraordinary burden on me and my campaign," Clinton said, a rare acknowledgment of stress from one who has sought to look as if she finds campaigning a breeze.

"You know, we have never had a primary process like this," she said in response to a question about the earlier-than-ever California contest. "We're all trying to figure out how to manage the resources, the time, the organizational challenges." She quickly added: "But I'm excited that California is moving up like it has decided to do."

With the first primary votes at least nine months away, the top-tier candidates in both parties have been traveling at a breakneck speed, cramming cross-country fundraising and campaign swings into their days off.

The past week was an especially grueling one for those Democratic candidates in the U.S. Senate. They voted Thursday on a war spending bill, then rushed to South Carolina for the first debate of the campaign that night. They then headed west for the California state convention, a major gathering of Democrats with a history of shaping the race (in 2003, it helped propel former Vermont governor Howard Dean).

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) flew from Columbia, S.C., to San Diego for his speech, making an energetic entrance down the center aisle of a convention center packed with screaming delegates. "Oh, I am fired up now," Obama said by way of opening.

But he has a long week ahead: He was to travel to Los Angeles late Saturday, attend a church service there Sunday, fly to Chicago that afternoon and then to Dallas on Monday before returning to Senate business Tuesday. Obama travels to New York, Baton Rouge and Detroit within the week. And he warned the Californians in the crowd that his speeches may not be so smooth in the days ahead.

"There will be times when I get tired. There will be times when I make a mistake," Obama said. "If you don't believe me, talk to my wife -- she'll tell you. But this campaign we're running is not about me: It's about you."

Clinton, after sparring with her rivals for 90 minutes on Thursday night, flew back to Washington before making the nearly six-hour trip to San Diego, where she arrived after midnight Saturday. Former senator John Edwards (D-N.C.) is planning to appear before the conventioneers Sunday morning.

Despite her scratchy voice, Clinton delivered a forceful address to California delegates, repeatedly referring to her future presidency as a done deal.

"All across this country, people are telling me they're ready for change," Clinton said. "Somebody said to me he wished he could just sort of rewind the 21st century, just eliminate the Bush-Cheney administration with all their misstatements and misjudgments." She added: "It is our country they are running, and we are tired of them believing that they can have a country of the few and by the few and for the few. Those days have got to end."

"Well, I am here to tell you that if you are ready to change, I am ready to lead, and I will need your help," she said.

Several weeks into the second fundraising quarter, Clinton also said that as president she would look into ways to enforce public financing of elections -- including, potentially, a constitutional amendment. Clinton was headed Saturday night to Silicon Valley, with stops in Reno and Los Angeles planned before her return trip to Washington.


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