The Democrats

Clinton, Obama Try Unconventional on Stops in the West and Midwest

By Alec MacGillis and Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, February 3, 2008

MINNEAPOLIS, Feb. 2 -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) sprinted across the West and Midwest on Saturday, drawing thousands of voters who this week will have their first chance in years to cast a meaningful primary ballot.

Nothing suggested the lengths to which the candidates are going for a few extra delegates so much as Obama's first destination: Boise, Idaho. In one of the nation's most Republican and sparsely populated states, he drew more than 14,000 people to the Boise State University basketball arena -- nearly three times as many people as voted in the state's Democratic caucus in 2004.

"They told me there weren't any Democrats in Idaho. That's what they told me," Obama said. "I didn't believe them."

Obama drew even bigger crowds later in the day in Minneapolis, where an estimated 18,000 filled the city's basketball arena, and in St. Louis, where an estimated 20,000 came to a rally at a football stadium.

Clinton campaigned in Los Angeles and Tucson, Ariz., before she, too, ended the day in St. Louis. She also took an unconventional approach to voter outreach, filming a special installment of the tabloid show "Inside Edition": a 45-minute roundtable with eight voters at a home in Inglewood, Calif., discussing the mortgage crisis, AIDS prevention and the Iraq war.

When asked about Iraq, Clinton portrayed the war as an issue that cannot be solved without a Democratic president. And she challenged Obama's argument that only he would be able to take on Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the Republican front-runner, strongly over the war because he opposed the war from the start.

"If [McCain's] the nominee, we're going to have a very vigorous debate," she said. "I am not going to take a back seat to anybody when it comes to national security and defending our country, but we have got to withdraw from Iraq. And I intend to do that starting within 60 days."

Obama's stops in Idaho and Missouri on Saturday were designed to buttress his campaign's argument that he would draw Republican converts to the Democratic ticket in November.

He tailored his stump speech to emphasize partisan reconciliation even more strongly, and he assured voters in Boise that he would not pursue aggressive gun control, a subject he rarely raises on the stump. (The Clinton campaign and the Republican National Committee both noted afterward that Obama said in 1996, when he was running for the state Senate, that he supported banning the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns in Illinois.)

Those attending said they were grateful for the visit and stunned by the turnout. "It's amazing," said Katie Sewell, who works for the university. "It's the most Republican state in the country, and look at this crowd. It can sort of feel hopeless being here and not believing what the majority here does, but this gives me hope."

Obama got a boost in his fitful efforts to win over Latino voters in California, with the endorsement of the state's Spanish-language paper, La Opinion.

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