Campaigns Prepare for a Long Haul

Sen. Barack Obama won the backing of Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, left, and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, center.
Sen. Barack Obama won the backing of Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, left, and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, center. (By Ted S. Warren -- Associated Press)
By Shailagh Murray and Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 9, 2008; Page A06

As Democratic voters in four states prepared to go to the polls this weekend, the party's presidential front-runners continued their cross-country chase for delegates, with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton seeking support from women and Sen. Barack Obama predicting "twists and turns" in the race ahead.

Both campaigned in Washington state as they prepared for contests there and in Louisiana and Nebraska today, caucuses in Maine tomorrow and three primaries on Tuesday.

Clinton returned to her signature issue of health care as she met with nurses in Tacoma and worked to portray herself as the underdog. Her advisers asserted that she is in an uphill fight.

Yesterday, Obama toured a Seattle company that retrofits homes to make them more energy-efficient as he sought to appeal to liberal voters. His campaign views Washington state as an ideal playing field, well-stocked with the kinds of voters -- professionals and the young -- who have flocked to the senator from Illinois in previous contests.

But with the Democratic campaigns settling in for a long haul, both sides are looking well past the next few days in plotting paths to the nomination. Two distinct road maps are taking shape. Obama's strategy is geographically broad and depends on smaller states to help him amass delegates, while Clinton is counting on a few, delegate-rich states to carry her to the nomination.

The trio of contests on Tuesday -- in Virginia, Maryland and the District -- are expected to offer a demographic advantage to Obama because of the sizable number of African American voters in all three places. But Clinton is expected to be competitive tomorrow in Maine -- the winner of the New Hampshire primary almost always is. And by focusing on health care, Clinton hopes to add to her strength among women, who have been the backbone of her strong finishes in previous races around the country.

Clinton's campaign also seemed to be rallying women around another, more sensitive issue. On Thursday, MSNBC reporter David Shuster noted that Chelsea Clinton, 27, the senator's daughter, has taken a selectively high-profile role in her mother's campaign -- refusing to grant most interviews but giving speeches at crucial moments. Shuster said she was "sort of being pimped out in some weird sort of way," provoking a heated response from the campaign. Howard Wolfson, a senior adviser, said that Clinton might not participate in an upcoming debate sponsored by MSNBC, while Emily's List, a political advocacy group that has endorsed Clinton, sent out a message to reporters declaring: "MSNBC's Sexism Must Stop." Shuster later apologized and was suspended by the network.

The big prize today is Washington and its 78 pledged delegates. Obama and Clinton spent yesterday campaigning around the state and have split the major endorsements, with Clinton picking up both Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, and Obama getting Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, Rep. Adam Smith and, in a surprise yesterday morning, Gov. Chris Gregoire in his camp.

After Tuesday, the remaining Democratic contests will unfold at a more measured pace. The next significant day of voting will be March 4, when Ohio and Texas go to the polls. Only one primary -- Pennsylvania's -- is scheduled in April. Obama will adjust his campaign approach by reverting to smaller events with more varied, issue-related themes. He will travel by bus through big states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio, rather than by his chartered Boeing 737.

"We'll have more time to do town hall meetings. We'll have more time to do roundtables. The calendar stretches out a little bit now, and that's something I'm looking forward to," Obama said.

From the outset, Obama's advisers knew that Clinton's name recognition and support from traditional Democrats would make her the strong favorite in populous states such as California, New Jersey and Ohio. To beat her, Obama would have to win delegates elsewhere, in smaller states that Democratic candidates rarely contest. His campaign stuck to that playbook, even as Feb. 5 approached and polls showed Obama closing the gap in several big states. Instead of spending more time California, where he appeared to be gaining, Obama moved on to Idaho and Delaware. He won both states on Super Tuesday by large margins, and probably picked up more delegates than an extra day or two in California would have netted, campaign aides said.

"We were going to focus on all 22 states, and I think that strategy was rewarded for us," said Obama campaign manager David Plouffe.

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