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Washington State is the contest du jour

With Clinton and Obama engaged in a fight for delegates to the national convention, the state of Washington’s 78 pledged delegates are highly coveted by the two Democrats.
Image: Hillary Clinton.
Senator Hillary Clinton speaks at a town hall meeting at West Central Community Center in Spokane, Wash., Feb. 8.Jim Young / Reuters
/ Source: The New York Times

Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama crisscrossed Washington State on Friday, drawing standing-room-only crowds as they campaigned only miles apart on the eve of Saturday’s Democratic caucuses.

Speaking at a rally attended by 6,000 people, Mrs. Clinton stood onstage with Senator Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington, and took Mr. Obama to task over his health care plan, which she said would leave millions uninsured, including “more than 250,000 right here in Washington.”

“When it comes to universal health care, my opponent is saying, ‘No, we can’t,’ ” Mrs. Clinton said. “Well, I say, yes we can, and yes we will, if we make the right decision in this election.”

Mr. Obama has rebutted claims from Mrs. Clinton that his health care plan excludes too many people, saying that his proposal is built around the notion of making coverage more affordable and available to more people.

In nearby Seattle, at the Key Arena, where the N.B.A.’s SuperSonics play, about 17,000 people gathered to see Mr. Obama, filling the building and leaving nearly 3,000 people waiting outside. He barely referred to Mrs. Clinton, instead urging Democrats and like-minded independents to join allegiances.

“I think we have been spending so much time on our differences that we never seem to spend time on what we have in common,” Mr. Obama said. He collected an endorsement from Gov. Christine Gregoire, who referred to Mr. Obama as a candidate who could “stop the division in politics.”

When he walked onto the arena floor, the audience thundered with applause. It was one of the largest — and, it seemed, most adoring — crowds to greet Mr. Obama in recent weeks.

“If you guys want to sit down, feel free,” he said.

“No!” shouted the crowd, which proceeded to stand for nearly all of his 50-minute speech.

With Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama engaged in a fight for delegates to the national convention, the state of Washington’s 78 pledged delegates are highly coveted by the two Democrats. Mr. Obama has been organizing in the state for nearly a year, with five offices here. Mrs. Clinton has spent as much time here as he has, and began running a television advertisement this week, focusing on health care.

But Mrs. Clinton, who has not done as well in the caucus states as Mr. Obama has, winning only two of nine so far, suggested that she did not expect to win in Washington, as many of her supporters would be too busy working to break away from their schedules and spend the time to caucus for her.

“If this were a primary, where everybody could vote all day, I’d feel pretty good about it,” she said. “But it’s not. It’s a caucus.”

In addition to Washington, Louisiana and Nebraska are also holding contests on Saturday. Mr. Obama spent time Thursday in Louisiana, which has a primary, and in Nebraska, which has a caucus, before arriving in Seattle. Mrs. Clinton has not campaigned recently in Louisiana or Nebraska, though her husband appeared in Louisiana on Friday.

“There are no states that we write off,” Mr. Obama told reporters Friday morning at a news conference before the Key Arena rally. “On Saturday, if we come out of here with momentum and with additional delegates, that will help to lay the groundwork for what happens in Maryland and Virginia three days later. And that, in turn, will have an impact for how voters in Ohio and Texas perceive my candidacy.”

Mrs. Clinton’s advisers spent Friday trying to lower expectations for her performance not just in the Washington caucuses, but in nominating contests throughout February.

“The states in play this month do favor Senator Obama,” said Howard Wolfson, a Clinton spokesman, during a conference call with reporters. He cited Mr. Obama’s endorsements and his lead in the polls in states like Virginia. “We feel considerably better about the states on March 4.”

Those states include Ohio and Texas, and more and more they are being seen as a chance to bring clarity to the neck-and-neck nominating fight. Campaign aides in Washington and other states were scheduled to be dispatched to Ohio and Texas as early as Sunday. Mr. Obama intends to spend considerable time in both states, as well as in Wisconsin, which holds its primary Feb. 19.

“Within the Democratic Party, the Clinton brand name is very strong,” Mr. Obama said. “We have to do more work in order for people to peel off from something that they’re familiar with.”

On Friday morning, Mrs. Clinton’s advisers fought back against impressions that the campaign was short on cash, announcing that more than $8 million in online donations had been collected since Tuesday, bringing the campaign’s February total to nearly $10 million

Both Democratic candidates left Washington State on Friday, making their way to the states coming up next on the presidential nominating calendar. The Maine Democratic caucuses are Sunday, followed by primaries in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia on Tuesday.

Mrs. Clinton had challenged Mr. Obama to a debate in Maine, but he declined, saying he believes that after 18 debates, voters have had sufficient opportunity to see the two candidates. He has agreed, however, to two debates before March 4, in Ohio and Texas.

Julie Bosman reported from Tacoma, Wash., and Jeff Zeleny from Seattle. Katharine Q. Seelye contributed reporting.