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Battle in the Badger State

Wisconsin has become the site of an on-air blitz from Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
/ Source: National Journal

Riding a wave of momentum after impressive wins in the Potomac Primary on Tuesday, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is taking his message to Wisconsin, where earlier this week he was hit with the first negative ad from Hillary Rodham Clinton.

If Obama can take both Wisconsin and Hawaii next Tuesday, he will have racked up a 10-0 winning record over Clinton since Super Tuesday, putting his rival in a difficult position going into the important March 4 races.

Obama was the first to go on the air in Wisconsin, releasing TV spots previously aired in other states. The Clinton camp responded Wednesday by launching the first TV attack ad of the Clinton-Obama race, criticizing Obama for refusing to debate her in Wisconsin. Less than 24 hours later, the Illinois senator countered with a TV spot dismissing Clinton's tactics as part of the "same old politics of phony charges and false attacks." In the ad, an announcer emphasizes that there have already been 18 debates between the Democratic candidates this season, and Obama has agreed to two more.

The ad also responds to Clinton's criticism of Obama's policy proposals. On health care, the announcer claims that former President Bill Clinton's Labor Secretary Robert Reich "says Obama covers more people than Hillary and does more to cut costs, saving $2,500 for the typical family." Using an AP quote, the ad claims Obama's housing plan "stems foreclosures and cracks down on crooked lenders."

The Clinton camp was quick to fire back. In a statement, Wisconsin county official and Clinton backer Kathleen Falk charged, "This ad makes clear why Senator Obama doesn't want to have a one-on-one debate with Sen. Clinton in Wisconsin.... He doesn't want people to know that his health care plan leaves 15 million people out," and "he doesn't want people to know that Senator Clinton's plan cuts health care costs more aggressively."

Obama and Clinton are battling for the Badger State's blue-collar workers, and both delivered economic policy speeches at General Motors plants this week -- Obama in Wisconsin and Clinton in Ohio. But it was Obama who received a significant labor endorsement on Thursday and is poised to capture an even larger one from the Service Employees International Union today.

Taking care of business
After being beaten to the airwaves in most Super Tuesday states by Obama, the Clinton campaign has undertaken a major ad push in upcoming primary states in an effort to reclaim the momentum. While Clinton's finances remain less robust than her rival's, her campaign advisers feel they can't afford to sit back and watch the Illinois senator erode her leads in the key March 4 primaries in Texas and Ohio.

Clinton's newest spot, released Thursday in select Texas markets, lauds her work in passing bipartisan measures protecting the health care and bonuses of National Guard members and reservists. Over shots of Clinton working and meeting with wounded veterans, the ad echoes previous Clinton ads by promising, "She'll never stop fighting for those who fight for us and give voice to those who have none."

By tying together the issues of health care and support for the armed services, as Clinton's advertising has done in the past, the ad plays to two of her strengths in a state that has always had close ties to the military. In its focus on specific problems and the candidate's policy fixes, the ad is also of a piece with the New York senator's new message, as outlined by chief strategist Mark Penn this week. "She is in the solutions business," he told reporters in a conference call. "And that is a sharp contrast to an opponent who is in the promises business."