Two Candidates, Two States and One Big Day

Sen. Barack Obama won North Carolina's presidential primary by a wide margin Tuesday, while Sen. Hillary Clinton narrowly won in Indiana.
By Shailagh Murray and Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, May 6, 2008

EVANSVILLE, Ind., May 5 -- On a final, fevered day of campaigning, Sen. Barack Obama looked to voters in Indiana and North Carolina to reverse a string of defeats in key states, while Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton fought to keep her improbable comeback hopes alive with a pair of strong showings.

Sensing momentum in a state she was once expected to lose handily, Clinton spent part of Monday campaigning in North Carolina, where she championed her proposal to suspend the federal gas tax for the summer, promised to take on oil companies over alleged price gouging, and pledged a return to the economic progress of the 1990s, when her husband was president.

"I'm running a campaign on a simple belief: This election is about jobs, jobs, jobs," Clinton told a crowd at a train station in High Point, N.C.

At an event later in the day in Indiana, Clinton took on the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries as part of her pledge to deal with high gas prices. "We're going to go right at OPEC," she said at a firehouse in Merrillville. "They can no longer be a cartel, a monopoly that get together once every couple of months" and "decide how much oil they're going to produce and what price they're going to put it at."

"That's not a market," she said. "That's a monopoly."

Obama also split his time between both states, an indication that he, too, sees a tightening race in North Carolina and a close contest in Indiana. He hit on many of the same economic themes as Clinton, in particular dismissing her proposed gas tax holiday as a gimmick that would amount to a mere $30 per voter while costing highway construction jobs.

The pace of both campaigns underscored an urgency to exceed expectations in the two biggest contests left on the Democratic calendar.

For Obama, the Indiana and North Carolina primaries provide a chance to end two months of difficulties that peaked last week when his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., held a controversial news conference in which he defended earlier statements that Obama had denounced. The senator from Illinois broke with Wright, terming the news conference "outrageous" and "destructive," but it remains to be seen how voters will react.

Obama has also struggled at the polls, not winning a single large state since his Wisconsin rout of Clinton on Feb. 18. Losses in Ohio in March and Pennsylvania in April showed him struggling to connect with working-class white voters, who will figure significantly in both North Carolina and Indiana. Obama went out of his way to court the group Monday, making a quick detour to Indiana's southwest corner to meet with small gatherings of working-class men.

"This is going to be a tight election here in Indiana -- every poll shows a dead heat. We need every single vote," Obama told a group of AFL-CIO members in Evansville. "You guys are pretty persuasive. I need you to tell your membership this is something worth fighting for."

A loss in Indiana, which neighbors Obama's home state of Illinois and where his campaign once expected to win easily, could raise anew questions about his ability to beat Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, in November.

The Clinton campaign has labeled Indiana a must-win and is also hoping for a stronger-than-expected finish in North Carolina, if not an outright triumph, to maintain the momentum she has built in the past several weeks.

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