Sen. Barack Obama said Monday he is the candidate who can lead the country out of a long period of divisive and ineffective government, a theme he increasingly uses against Democratic rival Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was first lady for eight years.
Citing the Iraq war, global warming and economic worries, Obama told more than 15,000 people at the University of Maryland that he decided to run for president soon after entering the Senate because "I was convinced that the size of these challenges had outstripped the capacity of a broken and divided politics to solve."
The nation, he said, "wanted a politics that wasn't about tearing the country down, but was about lifting the country up."
"We need something new," he said, dismissing Clinton's suggestions that he is not tough enough to handle the White House's rigors.
"I may be skinny, but I'm tough, too," he said, drawing loud cheers.
In recent days, Obama has said Clinton has difficulty escaping a divisive past because she became a polarizing figure during her husband's presidency and her time in the Senate representing New York.
Building on momentum
The Illinois senator held two large rallies Monday in Maryland, which holds its Democratic primary on Tuesday along with Virginia and the District of Columbia. Obama hopes to build on the momentum he built over the weekend, when he swept four contests from Clinton.
In fact, the weekend could hardly have had better for Obama. As Clinton was changing campaign managers on Sunday, Obama easily won the Maine caucus and even scored a Grammy award, beating former President Clinton and others for "best spoken word album," for the audio version of his book, "The Audacity of Hope."
Obama also won in Louisiana, Nebraska and Washington state on Saturday.
Looking beyond Tuesday's three contests, the campaign announced Monday it is starting television advertising throughout Texas and Ohio, airing an ad that features Obama discussing the death of his mother at age 53 from cancer and the cost of health care. The ads will begin airing on English language broadcast stations Tuesday, and plans are underway for Spanish-language ads.
Texas and Ohio hold their primaries March 4.
Typically it costs $1 million per week in Texas to wage a statewide political advertising campaign that saturates the approximately two-dozen TV markets. Obama raised $32 million in January to Clinton's $13.5 million, and the former first lady said last week she had lent her campaign $5 million.
Clinton's aides have not said when and where she would be advertising in the state. Texas organizer Garry Mauro, a former state land commissioner, said Clinton would campaign in all media markets, though he wouldn't say if she would pay for advertising everywhere. The major media markets are Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio and Austin.
The Democratic nomination is far from decided, with weeks or months of campaigning still ahead. Clinton, the New York senator and former first lady, is an experienced, well-financed campaigner certainly capable of pulling off more surprise wins, as she did Jan. 8 in New Hampshire.
She also is vying with Obama for the endorsement of former candidate John Edwards. Clinton quietly visited Edwards last Thursday in North Carolina, but Obama decided not to do the same on Monday.
For now, at least, the wind is at Obama's back. Polls published Sunday showed him leading in Maryland and Virginia.
Barring a Clinton upset in one of those states, her best bet to slow his momentum may lie in upcoming primaries in Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania.