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Clinton Now Looking Beyond S.C.

Focus on 4 Delegate-Rich States Is Considered Risky

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton greets supporters at a rally in Salinas, Calif, where she received the endorsement of the United Farm Workers union.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton greets supporters at a rally in Salinas, Calif, where she received the endorsement of the United Farm Workers union. (By Elise Amendola -- Associated Press)
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Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, January 23, 2008; Page A01

SALINAS, Calif., Jan. 22 -- The next Democratic presidential nominating contest will take place in South Carolina on Saturday, but Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has already turned her full attention to places such as this: delegate-rich pockets of states that will vote in a tidal wave of primaries two weeks from now.

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Clinton has been focused on California, New York, New Jersey and Arkansas since her defeat in the Iowa caucuses earlier this month, betting that she can sweep states where her name recognition and popularity are strong.

The logic seems simple: She represents New York in the Senate, and New Jersey is next door; she was the first lady of Arkansas for a decade; and California will be the biggest prize when 22 states vote on Feb. 5. But in a system that awards delegates by congressional district, with some worth more than others, the calculation is far from straightforward, and Clinton backers fear that the setup could boost Sen. Barack Obama if he fares well in populous corners of key states.

Her strategists call it a "game of chess," part of the byzantine path to the Democratic nomination in a campaign that has pitted two strong front-runners and a determined third candidate, former senator John Edwards, in a tight battle from one contest to the next.

The approach is demanding. Clinton made a one-day cross-country round trip to visit this vital district, a heavily Hispanic area with a number of less-affluent voters who her advisers believe are likely to support her. She hopes to sweep the entire state of California, and polls have shown her doing well statewide, but it is just as critical that she pick up the five delegates that come with the Salinas area. Under the Democratic nominating rules, 70 percent of California's delegates will be awarded on a district-by-district basis; the remaining 30 percent will go to the candidate who wins statewide.

The same is true for the other big-prize states, forcing the Clinton and Obama campaigns, despite their record fundraising and an avalanche of media attention, to make carefully targeted choices about where to send the contenders and where to place ads.

On this trip, Clinton won the endorsement of the United Farm Workers, the union founded by C¿sar Ch¿vez, and tailored her pitch to the area's economic concerns.

"When I talk about what I want to do as your president, it is about you and your families, your jobs, your futures," she told a crowd of cheering supporters, including numerous farmworkers, at Hartnell College.

Clinton strategists think Obama will do better in African American districts while Clinton will fare better in places such as this, with a heavy Hispanic population. It is one piece of a puzzle that the campaign is putting together -- or, in the words of one strategist, paring down -- as it makes budget decisions. "You start out with this huge list of congressional districts and you slowly whittle it down" to ones that are winnable, the adviser said.

Obama is making similar decisions. Although he has opened offices in all 22 states holding contests on Feb. 5, he is zeroing in on specific voter groups in which he believes he has an inherent advantage over Clinton. In New Jersey, one of his targets is independent voters. In Georgia and Alabama, he is seeking to replicate his South Carolina strategy by targeting African Americans.

Clinton denied that she is skating past South Carolina, the first state where African Americans are expected to make up a majority of the Democratic electorate, in order to win states that are set up better for her. Her campaign is already walking a fine line with the black community in its criticisms of Obama, and aides want to avoid the appearance that she is ignoring the concerns of black voters in the South.

In a news conference before she left Washington on Tuesday, Clinton argued that it is "absolutely not fair" to say that she is ceding South Carolina to Obama, who is campaigning there most of this week. After traveling to California and Arizona on Tuesday, she was scheduled to return to Washington late that night and then go to New Jersey on Wednesday.


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