By Tim Craig and John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, February 10, 2008
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama told a raucous crowd of Democrats in Richmond last night that his three-state win yesterday ratifies his message of change, and opponent Hillary Rodham Clinton told the same audience she is ready to take on likely Republican nominee John McCain.
Obama and Clinton spoke at the Virginia Democratic Party's annual high-profile Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner, the only time the two will appear at the same event before voters go to the polls Tuesday in the District, Maryland and Virginia. Clinton and Obama both view Virginia as the major prize.
"Today, voters from the West Coast to the Gulf Coast to the heart of America stood up to say that it is time to turn the page," Obama told about 6,000 party activists and donors. "We won Louisiana and Nebraska and the state of Washington, and I believe that we can win in Virginia on Tuesday if you're ready to stand for change."
Clinton didn't discuss yesterday's contests. But she and Obama both eagerly attacked McCain.
"If I am your nominee, you don't have to worry I will ever be knocked out of the ring," Clinton said. "Because I do have the strength and experience to go toe-to-toe with Senator McCain whenever and wherever he wants."
Obama said of McCain: "He speaks of a hundred-year war in Iraq and sees another on the horizon with Iran. He once opposed George Bush's tax cuts for the wealthiest few who don't need them and didn't ask for them. He said they were too expensive and unwise. And he was absolutely right. But somewhere along the line, the wheels came off the Straight Talk Express, because he now supports the very same tax cuts he voted against. This is what happens when you spend too long in Washington. Politicians don't say what they mean, and they don't mean what they say."
Clinton criticized President Bush and said McCain represented "more of the same."
"We have tried it President Bush's way: concentrate wealth, hoard power, disregard science, shred the Constitution, smear dissenters, impugn patriots," Clinton said.
In Maryland, the only candidate appearance yesterday was by Republican Mike Huckabee, who spoke at the University of Maryland.
The Jefferson-Jackson dinner, the largest fundraiser for the Democratic Party of Virginia each year, was moved to the Stuart C. Siegel Center at Virginia Commonwealth University from the Richmond convention center to accommodate the crowds eager to hear Clinton and Obama. The event quickly sold out.
Thousands of people from across the state starting gathering hours before the dinner. They came to support their candidates and wait in security lines. Hundreds of rowdy Clinton and Obama supporters staked out prime spots in front of the Siegel Center. Obama supporters appeared to outnumber Clinton supporters outside the center.
Each side chanted and waved signs while police tried to keep them from spilling into the busy street.
"The Hillary people got a late start," lamented Charlene Bickford, 63, of Arlington County, wearing a pin with the former first lady's photo. "I'm kicking myself at this point that we didn't do enough organizing early on."
Ronald Cline Jr., a teacher from Louisa County, said he felt it was less evidence of a groundswell for Obama and more a function of the venue.
"This is a college, and young people are for Obama," Cline, 37, said.
Earlier, hundreds of Obama supporters fanned across the state for a final canvassing push to turn out voters to the polls.
"On Tuesday, we got a chance to sweep D.C., Maryland and Virginia," Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) told about 175 Obama volunteers at a rally yesterday morning in Richmond before they hit the streets with Obama literature. "There is going to be an intense focus on this outcome, and if we can do this heavy, heavy push between now and Tuesday and deliver Virginia . . . that will be such a huge momentum story."
Obama is set to attend meetings today in Alexandria and Virginia Beach, while Clinton is at similar events in Prince William County, Roanoke and Bowie. Obama also has rallies planned at large venues tomorrow in College Park and Baltimore.
Former president Bill Clinton campaigned throughout Virginia yesterday, appearing in Chesapeake, Richmond, Abingdon and last night at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Today, he is planning to attend church services in the District and Upper Marlboro before campaigning in Catonsville, Baltimore and Silver Spring.
Some polls released Friday showed Obama might have an advantage in Virginia, but his campaign advisers sought to play down expectations yesterday.
"We are fighting a race like we are 10 points down instead of 10 points ahead," said Steve Hildebrand, Obama's deputy campaign manager.
On the Republican side yesterday, an enthusiastic crowd of nearly 1,000 people greeted Huckabee at the University of Maryland, where the presidential hopeful urged supporters to ignore "Beltway babble" about the Republican race being over and vote for him Tuesday.
"Somebody forgot to tell you guys that there aren't any Republicans in Maryland," Huckabee told a crowd gathered at the College Park campus's student union. "This is incredible. . . . I'm energized by you today."
Huckabee did not mention McCain by name during a speech in which he touted his plans to abolish the income tax and spoke at length about his humble upbringing.
Addressing an audience dominated by college students and young families, Huckabee made it clear that he is not willing to concede Tuesday's primaries in Maryland, Virginia and the District.
"This campaign is not over," Huckabee said. "You have a right to make a choice."
Huckabee, whose base in early nominating states has been evangelical Christians, largely emphasized economic issues and argued a Washington outsider would be best suited to lead the country. "If the solutions were to be found in Washington, they would have already done it," Huckabee said.
Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 2 to 1 in Maryland, and Tuesday's GOP primary has received less attention than the Democratic contest.
Staff writers Anita Kumar and Sandhya Somashekhar contributed to this report from Richmond; Wagner was in College Park; Craig, in Richmond. The Associated Press also contributed.