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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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After a rally in Toledo, she flew to Texas, holding an event in an airport hangar in Beaumont and then a town hall meeting and rally in Austin. She cast a fiery, defiant tone throughout the day.

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"I think I know what's happening and I believe I'm going to do very well tomorrow. . . . I think that's going to be a very significant message to the country, and then we move on to Pennsylvania and the states coming up," she told reporters at a news conference in Toledo.

In the evening, she taped a segment for "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" and fielded questions from voters across Texas at an interactive town hall meeting.

Clinton aides, meanwhile, launched a two-pronged assault on Obama. They highlighted his ties to Chicago developer Antonin Rezko, who went on trial Monday, and a newly disclosed memo written by a Canadian official after he met with Obama economic adviser Austan Goolsbee. The official sent a dispatch back to Ottawa saying Goolsbee had assured him that Obama is not as protectionist as he has sounded on the campaign trail.

Eager for any advantage on a critical trade issue that has dominated much of the political discussion in Ohio, Clinton aides embraced the memo, dubbing the episode "NAFTA-gate." Clinton said the incident raises "serious questions" about Obama.

"I would ask you to look at that story. Substitute my name for Senator Obama," Clinton said. "If some of my advisers had been having private meetings with foreign governments and basically saying, "Ignore what I'm saying because it's only political rhetoric . . .' -- I think it raises serious questions." She accused Obama of doing "the old wink-wink" with Canadian officials and of attempting to deceive voters in Ohio, where the North American Free Trade Agreement is deeply unpopular.

But Clinton set aside discussions of NAFTA as she headed to Texas, a border state where the trade agreement is viewed more positively, and emphasized her experience.

Obama held events in San Antonio and Dallas before ending his day with a rally in Houston. The Canada controversy dominated an afternoon news conference in San Antonio, where he told reporters that Clinton is "running a tenacious campaign."

A week earlier, he had insisted that reports of a meeting between Goolsbee and a Canadian diplomat were false, and on Monday, Obama called the flap part of a smear effort by his rival's campaign. "I know the Clinton campaign has been true to its word in employing a kitchen-sink strategy," Obama said. "We've been catching what -- three, four things a day? This is one of them."

He said Goolsbee had visited the Canadian consulate in Chicago "as a courtesy" and had simply reiterated Obama's long-held commitment to improving NAFTA's labor and environmental standards. "Nobody reached out to the Canadians to try to assure them of anything," Obama said. "This notion that Senator Clinton is peddling, that somehow there's contradictions or winks and nods, has been disputed by all the parties involved."

Goolsbee has said that the author of the memo, Joseph DeMora, misinterpreted the tenor of their meeting, which was attended by two Canadian diplomats and reported on in writing. DeMora's memo said: "Noting anxiety among many U.S. domestic audiences about the U.S. economic outlook, Goolsbee candidly acknowledged the protectionist sentiment that has emerged, particularly in the Midwest, during the primary campaign."

It continued: "He cautioned that this messaging should not be taken out of context and should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans."

Staff writers Shailagh Murray with the Obama campaign and Paul Kane in Washington and washingtonpost.com staff writer Chris Cillizza in Washington contributed to this report.


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