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Wisconsin? Action moves to Texas and Ohio

Before the polls even opened in Wisconsin on Tuesday, the two Democratic contenders had moved on to campaign in Texas and Ohio, the two next big prizes on the primary calendar.
Democratic presidential candidate Clinton speaks at her Wisconsin primary election night campaign rally in Youngstown
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton talks to supporters Tuesday night in Youngstown, Ohio.Aaron Josefczyk / Reuters
/ Source: The New York Times

Before the polls even opened in Wisconsin on Tuesday, the two Democratic contenders had moved on to campaign in Texas and Ohio, the two next big prizes on the primary calendar.

In this blue-collar suburb of Cleveland, one of them, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, spoke at Grace’s Grill of her plans to revitalize the ailing Ohio economy with investments in wind and solar power, medical research, advanced automotive technology and low-cost home loans to protect people from foreclosure. Ohio has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation.

Mrs. Clinton’s rival, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, was in San Antonio, where he also talked about the crisis affecting subprime borrowers. Mr. Obama pledged to penalize predatory lenders, offer a tax credit to cover 10 percent of interest on mortgages of struggling homeowners and make an additional $10 billion in bonds available to help buy first homes or avoid foreclosure.

The similar themes illustrate the parallel approaches that Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton are taking to the Ohio and Texas primaries, which will be held March 4, along with those of Rhode Island and Vermont. Both campaigns acknowledged the central importance of the contests in Ohio and Texas, where pocketbook issues of struggling families have emerged as a central concern.

The four states together will decide 370 pledged delegates, the second-largest trove after the 22 contests on Feb. 5. Depending on the popular vote outcome and the complex delegate math, the March 4 votes could give Mr. Obama a commanding lead, put Mrs. Clinton ahead or leave them essentially tied and looking toward the next big-state contest, Pennsylvania on April 22.

“These are major, major, major battleground states,” said Howard Wolfson, the Clinton campaign’s communications director. “It will be a major test of the two candidates.”

The Clinton campaign said it was deploying staff members from other states to Ohio and opening offices in every Congressional district. In Texas, it has opened 20 offices and enlisted 4,000 precinct captains, almost halfway to where it wants to be, campaign officials said.

Texas’ byzantine delegate-selection rules pose a particular challenge to the Clinton forces. Districts that produced heavy Democratic majorities in past contests get a disproportionate share of the delegates, and this favors Mr. Obama because of large turnout in 2004 and 2006 in college towns and black precincts, where he has done well in other states. Mrs. Clinton’s strength is in the cities along the Mexican border, where she is popular with Hispanic voters, but which produce fewer delegates.

Adding to the complexity, Texas holds a primary and a caucus on the same day, with the evening caucus open only to those who have already cast primary ballots, either in early voting (which began Tuesday) or at the polls on March 4. Mr. Obama has prevailed in most caucuses up to now.

Mrs. Clinton said she could not begin to explain how the Texas system worked. “I had no idea how bizarre it is,” she said aboard her plane flying from Wisconsin to Ohio. “We have grown men crying over it.”

Clinton campaign officials have admitted being ill prepared for the series of contests after Feb. 5. Further evidence came this week when The Philadelphia Daily News reported that the Clinton campaign in Pennsylvania had failed to file a complete slate of delegates for that state’s primary, falling 10 or 11 delegates short of the 103 delegates to be elected at the district level. Under party rules, however, those delegates could be restored later. Phil Singer, a campaign spokesman, said, “We expect every one of our slots to be filled after the Pennsylvania primary.”

After winning 23 contests before Tuesday, the Obama campaign is intensely competing in Texas and Ohio. Television advertisements started running in both states last week, including Spanish-language advertisements in Texas.

In Ohio, two advertisements focus on the state’s battered economy and promise job-creation programs and an end to corporate tax loopholes; another is biographical, and a fourth paints Mrs. Clinton as an embodiment of the past.

The Obama campaign has opened 10 regional offices in Texas, aides said, and plans to open more before the primary.

Their strategy for Texas, Obama aides said, includes appealing to African-Americans in Dallas and Houston, as well as building upon the senator’s popularity in Austin, where a rally last year drew 20,000 people. But Mr. Obama’s first appearance in the state on Tuesday, in the heart of a Hispanic neighborhood in San Antonio, underscored his effort to compete with Mrs. Clinton for Hispanic supporters.

Adrian Saenz, the Texas director of the Obama campaign, said 125,000 volunteers in the state had signed up to help the campaign when the operation formally began three weeks ago.

“We’re not giving up any part of the state, regardless of where folks may say the Clintons have deep roots,” Mr. Saenz said in an interview, adding that the campaign intended to find support among younger Hispanic voters. In the fight for Ohio, Mr. Obama has dispatched his top operatives, including Paul Tewes, the Iowa campaign manager, to run the state effort. Teams of organizers from states that held contests on Feb. 5 have also been dispatched to Ohio and Texas.

The Clinton campaign plans to spend millions of dollars on advertisements in the two states, with an emphasis on Mrs. Clinton’s experience and her economic message, which has taken on a new populist tone in recent days.

A new television advertisement in Ohio, “Night Shift,” is directed at lower-income voters, who have formed a bulwark of her support so far. It speaks of those who clean up in hair salons, work late at diners and pull the overnight shift in hospitals.

The Clinton campaign says it has raised $15 million in 15 days this month, most of it from online contributors, and top aides say they will be able to match Mr. Obama’s spending in the coming contests.

“We’re going to run a campaign down here in which we concede absolutely nothing,” said Ace Smith, the Clinton campaign’s Texas director and director of Mrs. Clinton’s winning campaign in California.

John M. Broder reported from Parma, and Jeff Zeleny from San Antonio. Mary Ann Giordano and Dalia Sussman contributed reporting.