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Foreign Policy Hits Home in Tex., Ohio

Two Days Away, Races Are Too Close to Call

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By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 2, 2008

COLUMBUS, Ohio, March 1 -- With Texas and Ohio considered too close to call, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton escalated her argument with Sen. Barack Obama on Saturday over who is more ready to become commander in chief, as the candidates appealed to voters ahead of contests that will determine whether the Democratic race continues.

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Clinton, whose husband said last week that she has to win both primaries, displayed a sense of urgency at a Saturday morning fundraiser in San Antonio. "We have to win on Tuesday," she told the audience. "That's not a surprise to any of you. And we are going to win on Tuesday."

At a rally in Fort Worth and aboard her campaign plane, the senator from New York continued to hammer home the message of the "ringing phone" television ad that she began airing in Texas on Friday, arguing that she, not Obama, has the experience to handle a foreign policy crisis.

Speaking with reporters on the plane, Clinton sidestepped a question about what moment in her career demonstrated her capacity to handle a foreign policy crisis. "That's not the right question," she said. "The question is: What have you done over the course of a lifetime to equip you for that moment?" Clinton said that while she and Republican Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) would each point to a lifetime of experience in a potential general-election matchup, Obama would point to "a speech he made in 2002" -- a reference to his opposition to the Iraq war.

Obama's campaign displayed its own urgency on the national security issue by launching an ad in Texas featuring retired Gen. Merrill A. "Tony" McPeak, former Air Force chief of staff, that praises Obama's judgment in opposing the war. The new ad and three others come after Obama's campaign on Friday produced a counterpoint to Clinton's ringing-phone commercial -- a sign of concern about allowing the attack to go unanswered.

At a rally in Providence, R.I., Saturday afternoon, the senator from Illinois continued to question Clinton's judgment on the war as he pressed his change message. "Real change isn't voting for George Bush's war in Iraq and telling the American people you were actually voting for more diplomacy," Obama said. "The title of the bill was 'A resolution to authorize the use of the United States armed forces against Iraq.' That sounds like you were voting for authorizing the use of armed forces against Iraq."

Only a few weeks ago, Clinton held big leads in both Texas and Ohio. Obama's momentum after a string of victories has sharply reduced those margins, but public opinion polls showed neither candidate with a decisive advantage in either state.

Obama victories in Texas and Ohio would put pressure on Clinton to end her candidacy and avoid a prolonged and potentially divisive intraparty battle that could weaken the Democrats in the general election. Clinton victories would give her campaign a major boost and keep the race going at least until Pennsylvania's April 22 primary, even though she would continue to trail Obama in the delegate tallies. A split decision also could produce calls for Clinton to end her campaign, given Obama's lead in delegates.

The candidates' weekend schedules reflected the closeness of the races. Clinton and Obama were to arrive back in Ohio late Saturday after several days in Texas, then to campaign in Ohio on Sunday, with both planning stops in the same Columbus suburb. Both will return to Texas for more events Monday.

Top strategists for the two candidates sought to set expectations in advance of Tuesday's voting. "We've still got four days here, but I think we're heading to two close outcomes," Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said in a telephone interview. "That is not going to be a good enough outcome for them."

Plouffe argued that even victories by Clinton in the popular vote would not be likely to net her enough pledged delegates to change the mathematical hurdles of trying to overtake Obama. But he said the Obama campaign already is organizing in the next states with primaries and caucuses, and will expand its efforts as needed. "If she stays in the race after March 4, then we have to keep accumulating delegates," he said.

Mark Penn, Clinton's chief strategist, dismissed fears that a lengthy race would split the party. "At the end of the day, with either of these two nominees, the party will enthusiastically embrace them," he said. "There shouldn't be any effort to short-circuit or shortchange the voters in the 16 jurisdictions here to go."


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