COLUMBUS - Without calling her opponent by name, Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday set out to place the first few bricks in what she hopes will be an Ohio firewall against the momentum of Barack Obama.
She toured an auto plant in Lordstown, addressed the state's high home foreclosure rate in Dayton, and capped her first day on the Ohio primary trail with a rally before about 2,700 on the campus of Ohio State University.
"Ohio is going to matter so much,'' she told the friendly crowd. " I understand that this is a tough choice for a lot of people. I know as we go forward over the next three weeks in Ohio that there will be all kinds of comments, punditry, all sorts of speculation about this election.
"But I think what's most important is for you to decide who you will believe will be the next president, best commander in chief,'' she said, playing up what she argues to be her greatest strength, experience, while claiming "my opponent'' delivers glitzy speeches without specifics.
The New York senator and former first lady hopes del-egate-rich Ohio and Texas on March 4 and Pennsylvania on April 22 will stop the Obama momentum that saw him sweeping the Chesapeake states Tuesday after capturing more Super Tuesday states overall than she did on Feb. 5.
She hopes it has already begun as she told the crowd that a recount to resolve the extremely tight New Mexico vote ended in her favor.
A poll of battleground states from Connecticut's Quinnipiac University released yesterday appeared to show that, while he has made gains, Mr. Obama has yet to fully take hold in either Ohio or Pennsylvania where Mrs. Clinton holds 21 and 16 point leads over the Illinois senator among likely Democratic voters.
The Clinton campaign is counting on her message of a moratorium on mortgage foreclosures, universal health care, and a crackdown on predatory lending practices will resonate among blue-collar workers and lower-income people in Ohio, where unemployment eclipses the national average.
The fight for Ohio will continue today with Mrs. Clinton visiting a Cleveland-area school and on Sunday when her husband, former President Bill Clinton, campaigns in Toledo and several other Ohio cities.
Meanwhile, Mr. Obama's wife, Michelle, will campaign today in Columbus and Cincinnati while Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy campaigns for him tomorrow in Cleveland, Akron, and Youngstown.
Mrs. Clinton's pledge to begin withdrawing American troops from Iraq within 60 days of taking office won huge applause from the mostly student audience.
"There is no need for the fear and fatalism that we have been subjected to by this President and this vice president," she said.
"Fear has been used to divide us, to impugn the patriotism of so many Americans, to constantly undermine our Constitution, our individual rights, liberties, and way of life. Fatalism that is so contrary to the American spirit has crept into our conversation."
Angela Hitchcock, 18, of Sylvania, an Ohio State political science and business major, is one of those on the fence that Mrs. Clinton was trying to woo last night.
She said she plans to cast an absentee ballot next week in her first presidential primary election.
"For the most part, I want to be sure that whoever I vote for can beat John McCain," she said. "I think both of them would be good presidents, but I just want whoever is going to be more electable.''
That would be Hillary Clinton, Mrs. Clinton told the crowd. The only time she mentioned presumptive Republican nominee John McCain was when she said she stands the best shot of defeating him in November.
The Quinnipiac Poll seemed to support her argument, although either match-up showed a statistical dead heat in both Ohio and Pennsylvania. In Ohio, Mr. McCain had a single-point lead over Mrs. Clinton and a two-point lead over Mr. Obama.
In Pennsylvania, both Democrats are in a virtual statistical tie with Mr. McCain - 46 to 40 percent in a Clinton-McCain matchup and a narrow 42-41 for Obama-McCain. The margin of error in both states was 4.1 percent.
"Ohioans are already rejecting the irresponsible tax-and-spend policies promoted by Senator Obama and Senator Clinton," said Ohio Republican Party Deputy Chairman Kevin DeWine.
"The Democrats will promise us the world, but they will only deliver higher taxes and out-of-control spending."
Linnea Clausen, 19, of Tiffin, an art student from Otterbein College outside Columbus, had already chosen Mrs. Clinton over Mr. Obama before attending last night's rally.
"With Hillary, you get the best of both. She has the experience and yet I think she's going to stand for change also. She knows how to make things happen, because she has the experience."
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.39.96196 -83.00298