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Published: Monday, 3/3/2008

Dems make final Ohio push before primary

BY STEVE EDER AND JIM PROVANCE
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

WESTERVILLE, Ohio - For a few hours yesterday, Westerville was center stage in the race for the Democratic nomination for president.

U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York arrived first, addressing several hundred supporters at Westerville North High School in suburban Columbus before sending them off on a canvassing mission.

A few hours later, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, across town at Westerville Central High School, spoke to about 2,500 people, taking questions from the audience about why he thought he should win the nomination.

In the waning hours before Ohio voters head to the polls tomorrow, the candidates may have shared a campaign stop destination yesterday - but they took distinctively different approaches in delivering their messages to the people who came out to see them, many of them undecided voters.

Mrs. Clinton offered concise, but proposal-rich speeches, while Mr. Obama hosted townhall-style question-and-answer sessions. Both believe their respective approaches will pay off with Ohio votes in the Democratic primary for president.

In a speech designed to fire-up campaign volunteers, Mrs. Clinton told a packed gym in Westerville that they should think of Tuesday's primary as a "hiring decision."

"I know how hard this job is. But I'm confident and optimistic we can do it together," the former first lady told the crowd in Westerville.

During stops near Columbus, Youngstown, Akron, and Cleveland yesterday, Mrs. Clinton spoke about issues confronting Ohio.

Mrs. Clinton pledged to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq within the first 90 days of her presidency, provide access to health coverage for everyone, renegotiate trade agreements, create jobs, and reduce gas prices.

Ohio's economy and the war in Iraq also took center stage yesterday as Mr. Obama abandoned his trademark massive campus rallies for smaller town-hall meetings designed to counter Mrs. Clinton's contention that his campaign is all speech and no substance.

"I have continued to put forth an economic plan over the course of the campaign," he told the crowd in Westerville. "Yet Senator Clinton continues to insist that we provide speeches and she provides solutions."

He added, "The press has sort of bought into this, I think, because they, you know, want to keep the contest interesting, and I understand that."

Mr. Obama countered that beyond spreading his message of hope and change, he has been "very specific on every issue under the sun."

Mrs. Clinton alluded to Mr. Obama's message of "change," saying it has mistakenly been made into a key issue in this campaign.

"Change has been talked about a lot in this election," Ms. Clinton said.

"Change is going to happen whether we want it or not. Change is part of life. The question is, are we going to make progress together?"

Ms. Clinton and Mr. Obama are competing for Ohio's 162 delegates at the Democratic National Convention.

Those delegates could prove to be decisive in the closely fought battle for the nomination.

Mrs. Clinton is scheduled to visit the University of Toledo Student Union Auditorium this morning.

In one squabble on the campaign trial yesterday in Ohio, Mr. Obama accused Mrs. Clinton of telling people that Mr. Obama's entire campaign is based on the fact that he gave a speech in opposition to the war in Iraq.

"I have to say, when it came to making the most important foreign policy decision of our generation, the decision to invade, Senator Clinton got it wrong," Mr. Obama said.

"She didn't read the National Intelligence Estimate," he said. "[West Virginia Sen.] Jay Rockefeller read it, but she didn't read it."

The Clinton campaign, however, later noted that Mr. Rockefeller voted for the Iraq war resolution with Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Rockefeller, who serves as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, traveled with Mr. Obama through Ohio yesterday.

Mrs. Clinton has maintained that she was fully briefed by those who wrote the intelligence report.

Yesterday afternoon, the Clinton campaign fired off a statement from spokesman Phil Singer, titled: "Misleading Attack: Sen. Obama Flubs in Ohio."

The statement accused Mr. Obama of misleading voters in Ohio into believing that Mr. Rockefeller voted against the war resolution in 2002.

"Senator Obama is so desperate to divert attention from his limited national security experience that he's not just misleading voters about Senator Clinton, he's also misleading voters about his own supporters," Mr. Singer said in a statement.

"That is not change you can believe in."

Contact Steve Eder at:

seder@theblade.com,

or 419-304-1680.



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