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Clinton, Obama compete in Wisconsin

Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton found their campaigns slowed Sunday by a snow and ice storm that blanketed Wisconsin just days ahead of Tuesday's primary, but the former first lady was already looking ahead to bigger races in March to help her rebound in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton found their campaigns slowed Sunday by a snow and ice storm that blanketed Wisconsin just days ahead of Tuesday's primary, but the former first lady was already looking ahead to bigger races in March to help her rebound in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

On the Republican side, John McCain, the party's presumptive nominee, tried to differentiate himself from President George W. Bush on such issues as climate change and wasteful government spending, while hitting the Democratic candidates for supporting an early Iraq withdrawal.

Obama, who usurped Clinton as the leader by a slender margin a few days ago, has been campaigning in Wisconsin for most of the week. He had to cancel a campaign stop Sunday afternoon in Kaukauna in the Fox River Valley due to the bad weather.

Clinton, meanwhile, only arrived in the Midwestern state Saturday after spending most of the week campaigning in Ohio and Texas, two bigger states that vote March 4.

She had planned to wrap up her personal campaigning in the state with three events Sunday. But her Wisconsin campaign spokesman Carly Lindauer said a Sunday afternoon meeting in De Pere has been postponed until Monday morning because it was too risky to travel there. She still had events planned later Sunday in Wausau and Madison.

The New York senator had originally planned to stay in Wisconsin until Tuesday morning, but scaled back those plans. Her advisers have downplayed Clinton's chances in Wisconsin even as polling indicates the race could be close.

After winning eight straight head-to-head contests, Obama led the chase for nomination delegates 1,280-1,218. It takes 2,025 delegates to secure the presidential nomination at the party's convention this summer in Denver.

On Tuesday, there are 92 Democratic delegates at stake in the Wisconsin primary and 20 in caucuses in Obama's native Hawaii.

Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson said Sunday that the race is "essentially a tie" with a lot of states yet to weigh in.

"We feel that we're going to do everything we can to win in Wisconsin on Tuesday," Wolfson said on CBS television's "Face the Nation." "And then we go on to Ohio and we go on to Texas, where we feel very good. So this race is far from over."

Obama's senior strategist, David Axelrod, appearing on the same program, agreed the race is "not over," but said the Illinois senator now has "a strong lead" two-thirds of the way through the nomination campaign.

"We've won twice as many states as Senator Clinton. We've won 14 of them by 20,000 votes or more," Axelrod said. "And we've done it by bringing not just Democrats but independents and disaffected Republicans to the polls, building the kind of coalition we need to win in November."

In Wisconsin, Clinton and Obama made back-to-back appearances at a state Democratic Party dinner in Milwaukee Saturday night, focusing on which of them offers the best chance to defeat McCain and change the country's direction.

‘Toe to toe’ with McCain
Clinton said she knows the choice between her and Obama is a difficult one and that either would make history as the first female or black Democratic nominee, but said she was the only candidate who could "go toe to toe" with McCain.

"The choice is really whether we're going to have a fighter, a doer and a champion in the White House, somebody who gets up every single day with determination, backbone and, yes, toughness," she said. "We need to get back in the solutions business."

Obama countered that he would achieve solutions by rallying the country behind his causes and bringing Democrats, independents and Republicans together.

"All of us should be in the solutions business but all too often it ends up being business as usual," Obama said.

Obama said he could put together a winning coalition to defeat McCain, so the "disastrous policies" of the Bush administration would not be continued, by offering the sharpest contrasts with the Republican candidate.

"If I am the nominee of this party, John McCain will not be able to say that I agreed with him about the war in Iraq, because I didn't."

McCain, in a taped interview aired Sunday, said he is confident he can persuade Americans that setting a date for withdrawal from Iraq as the Democratic contenders advocate would be a "catastrophe" with al-Qaida claiming victory.

"I believe I can convince the American people that after nearly four years of mishandling of the war that we're now doing the right thing and we're succeeding," he said.

McCain said he is "proud of being a conservative Republican," but denied the Democratic candidates' argument that voting for him would in essence amount to a third Bush term.

McCain sees ‘uphill battle’
"How am I different? ... Climate change is an issue. Spending is another issue," McCain said, referring to his support for measures to combat global warming and wasteful government spending.

"This is going to be an uphill battle all the way," said the 71-year-old Arizona senator, a former Vietnam prisoner of war. "I can out-campaign them, and I can out-debate them, and I can out-perform them. ... My vision is more in keeping with the majority of Americans."

McCain added that he is "making progress" in solidifying his support among consevative Republicans. The party's core supporters have been unhappy with his unorthodox positions on some tax cuts, immigration reform, campaign finance laws, global warming, stem cell research and more.

"A number of the `conservatives' are coming over to our side," said McCain. "But I've got a lot of work to do to unite the party, and I'm trying to do that."

McCain is expected to receive an endorsement from former President George H.W. Bush in Houston, Texas, on Monday, Republican officials said. The endorsement is a further nudge for conservative activists to get over their distaste for McCain, and for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee to quit the race.

But Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, has refused to drop out until McCain secures the 1,191 delegates needed to secure the nomination at the party's convention this September in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota.

The Republicans also compete Tuesday In Wisconsin with 40 delegates at stake. McCain led Huckabee in a local poll.

McCain picked up at least 50 national nominating delegates on Saturday at state conventions in Michigan and Louisiana. They include some Michigan delegates who say they will back McCain now that last month's primary winner Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, has quit the race and endorsed the Arizona senator.

As a result, McCain has 903 total delegates nationally, according to an Associated Press tally. Huckabee has 245, while Romney's total dropped to 253.

A solid showing in Wisconsin could help Clinton in the run up to the March 4 primaries in Ohio and Texas, which could determine the fate of her campaign. The two states together offer 369 delegates.

Campaigning in Hawaii
Hawaii, Obama's native state, also was holding its caucuses Tuesday. Clinton's daughter, Chelsea, and Obama's half-sister, Honolulu school teacher Maya Soetoro-Ng, were campaigning for them in the Pacific island state.

Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, was campaigning for her in Ohio on Sunday after spending two days in Texas.