Campaigns Cover the Region In Last Effort to Charm Voters

Sen. Barack Obama speaks to thousands of supporters at the University of Maryland's Comcast Center on Monday.
By John Wagner, Amy Gardner and Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama offered himself as "something new" at a pair of spirited, arena-size rallies in Maryland yesterday, while his primary rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton, portrayed herself as a "battle-scarred" fighter for the middle class at more intimate events held across the region on the eve of today's primaries.

As the closing arguments were made to voters in Virginia, Maryland and the District, election officials were predicting a heavy turnout for the first-ever "Potomac Primary," and a great deal was at stake for the two Democratic candidates.

Obama was angling to sweep the three jurisdictions. For Clinton, a stronger-than-expected showing could blunt Obama's momentum in what has turned into a protracted competition for convention delegates: 171 are in play today, with contests in larger states such as Ohio and Texas looming.

Republicans will be on the ballot in the three jurisdictions as well today, but the contest between Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee has been more subdued, given McCain's seemingly insurmountable lead in delegates after Super Tuesday. Still, today's contests, particularly in Virginia, could provide a measure of conservative discontent with the presumptive GOP nominee. On the Republican side, 119 delegates are up for grabs.

Obama was greeted by a roaring crowd, estimated at 17,500, at the University of Maryland's Comcast Center in College Park, where the senator from Illinois promised to change the nation's energy policy and delivered a targeted message about cleaning up Chesapeake Bay. He also vowed to shut lobbyists out of Washington, roll back GOP tax cuts for wealthy Americans and raise the minimum wage "every year."

"You've never paid more for college," Obama told an audience dominated by students, many of whom had lined up in the cold for hours to see him. "You've never paid more for gas at the pump. It's harder to save. It's harder to retire. Our health-care system leaves 47 million without health insurance. Our school system, despite the slogan, leaves millions behind."

Clinton chose to spend her final day before the primaries at more-choreographed events, addressing about 100 people in the District, about half of them African American women, and a few dozen auto workers in Baltimore County. Later, she appeared before about 1,000 college students at the University of Virginia. All the events were tailored to constituencies the candidates have courted.

After answering questions about the economy and Iraq from workers at the General Motors Allison Transmission Plant in White Marsh in Baltimore County, the senator from New York sought to distinguish herself from Obama as a fighter who can go "toe-to-toe" with McCain, the likely Republican nominee.

"A lot of these fights are fights you have to have," she said. "You can't walk away from them."

In College Park, Obama told his audience: "I may be skinny, but I'm tough, too. I'm looking forward to mixing it up with John McCain."

In a statement issued last night through Obama's campaign, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) endorsed him. She said she was pleased to learn that Obama agreed with her that superdelegates should follow the choice of the voters in the primary. Norton described Obama as a prospective president "straight out of central casting."

Before heading to Richmond for a rally, McCain, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, held a news conference yesterday morning in Annapolis, where he sought to turn attention to the general election. He said he would run to win even in Maryland, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans roughly 2 to 1.

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