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Obama, Clinton In Key Face-Off

Sens. Barack Obama, (D-Ill.), and Hillary Rodham Clinton, (D-N.Y.), campaign hard ahead of primaries on Tuesday, March 4, in Ohio and Texas, contests that could make or break Clinton's campaign. Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain, (R-Ariz.) and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee also make last-minute pitches to voters in the two states.

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By Anne E. Kornblut and Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, March 4, 2008

BEAUMONT, Tex., March 3 -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton vowed to press on in her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination after critical primary tests in Ohio and Texas on Tuesday, even as advisers to Sen. Barack Obama said the latest round of voting would do little to improve her standing in a race in which she has been dealt setback after setback.

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Clinton advisers claimed fresh signs of momentum and continued to attempt to raise doubts about Obama on Monday, questioning his trade policies and ties to a Chicago developer. Clinton (N.Y.) predicted victory and insisted that a comeback is on the horizon. "I'm just getting warmed up," she said in a news conference in Ohio.

But it was unclear whether Clinton could derail Obama (Ill.) without a dramatic showing that would bring her a big win in delegates awarded Tuesday. With Obama riding a solid advantage in convention delegates into the latest contests, his aides dismissed the latest attacks as part of a "kitchen sink" strategy.

"They keep moving the goal posts, but at some point you run out of field," Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said Monday. He added that according to his count of pledged delegates, it appears virtually impossible that Clinton could overtake Obama in the remaining contests.

"This is their last huge opportunity on one day to try and turn around the delegate numbers," he said. He said he will not call for her to withdraw from the race if she does not close the delegate gap, but added: "I think there should be a sober analysis of where the race stands."

A total of 370 pledged delegates are at stake in primaries in Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island and Vermont on Tuesday. That includes 64 that will be awarded in Texas caucuses, which are separate from the state's primary and require voters to return after participating in it.

After Tuesday, the April 22 primary in Pennsylvania -- a state where her aides believe she will enjoy strong advantages -- and its 170 pledged delegates are the next big prize. Obama aides estimate that Clinton would have to win the contests remaining on the calendar with an average of about 60 percent of the vote to catch Obama in the delegate count.

Both candidates campaigned in Texas on Monday night. Obama planned to spend primary day in the state, where he has had a small lead in most polling, and Clinton planned to return to Ohio, where she led in preelection surveys.

Some top Democrats remain concerned about the effect of a nominating contest that drags into the summer. Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) last week that he believes such a scenario could cause long-term problems in uniting the party against the Republican Party's candidate -- a position he has long held, Democratic sources said.

Chief Clinton strategist Mark Penn said Monday that he has already seen evidence that a controversial ad launched by the campaign on Friday, asking voters to consider which candidate they would want to pick up the phone at 3 a.m. in a time of crisis, had swung momentum in her favor. Penn called the ad a "tipping point" in the race.

He also suggested that Obama's alleged inability to stand up to Clinton on the national security question did not bode well for his chances of winning that argument against Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the all-but-certain Republican nominee, in the fall. "If Senator Obama can't be seen to be commander in chief against Senator Clinton, how can he possibly expect to be seen as someone who can win the commander-in-chief question against Senator McCain?" Penn asked.

Clinton began her day before dawn with a 5:30 appearance at a Jeep plant in Toledo. She shook hands with dozens of workers as they arrived, telling them, "I need your vote."


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