Weekend battles for candidates

February 8, 2008 8:11:05 PM PST
By their presence, Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton anointed Washington state as their prime battleground in a trio of Democratic presidential contests Saturday.

Arizona Sen. John McCain and Mike Huckabee hunted for delegates in three states, too, keeping a vigorous pace despite the sense that the Republican race is essentially over, with McCain firmly on the road to the nomination.

People in Washington and Louisiana were voting Saturday for the nominees of both parties, while Nebraska was holding Democratic-only caucuses and Kansas was weighing in on the Republicans. Maine holds caucuses Sunday in the Democratic race.

Both Democrats visited Washington, the richest weekend prize with 78 delegates, and the campaign was as lively as it was short.

Obama drew nearly 20,000 to a raucous Seattle arena and overflow space Friday, a day after 10,000 packed the Illinois senator's rally in strongly Republican Nebraska - a state Clinton didn't visit, sending daughter Chelsea instead.

Obama won the last-minute endorsement Friday of Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, only the second female governor of the state. Both candidates had courted her - Obama speaking with her four times.

"He is leading us toward a positive feeling of hope in our country and I love seeing that happen," Gregoire said. Washington's senators, both women, back Clinton.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, one of them, introduced the New York senator to a crowd in Spokane and likened her to four-time Iditarod winner Susan Butcher and the Native American woman Sacajawea, who served as a guide for the Lewis and Clark expedition in the early 1800s.

"We like women pioneers here in the Northwest," Cantwell said.

"Hillary is here to listen, to answer questions and to make history, and Washington state is here to help her do that."

At the Obama rally, Lisa Jones, 32, said she likes his fresh face and approach. "I feel about him the way I did about Bill Clinton in 1992," she said. "I like Hillary, but she doesn't make my heart skip like Obama."

"This is my Woodstock," said Roger Thompson, 52. "I get to rid myself of the cynicism and even fatalism that has taken over this country."

A look at the weekend races:

WASHINGTON CAUCUSES:
The stakes: 78 Democratic delegates, 18 GOP delegates.

The campaign: Obama rallied in Seattle while his wife, Michelle, campaigned across the Cascade Mountains in Spokane. Clinton held a boisterous rally on the Seattle waterfront and filled gyms in Tacoma and Spokane.

McCain also planned to campaign in Seattle and Huckabee's wife, Janet, was expected in the city's eastern suburbs.

Lay of the land: Obama is thought to have an advantage in the caucuses, which are dominated by party activists. However, Washington has a strong history of electing women.

Polls done shortly before John Edwards dropped out indicated a tight race between Clinton and Obama, with Edwards a strong third.

Since then, some of Edwards' strongest supporters have endorsed Obama.

Social conservatives have a history of packing the GOP caucuses, which could boost Huckabee. But with McCain now a shoo-in, some who would normally vote in the Republican race might be drawn to the higher-stakes Democratic contest. Washington voters don't register by party.

LOUISIANA PRIMARIES:
The stakes: 56 Democratic delegates, 20 Republican delegates.

The campaign: Obama spoke Thursday to a crowd of some 4,000 in New Orleans. Bill Clinton visited the state Friday.

Lay of the land: A heavy turnout by black voters would benefit Obama. The state is close to one-third black and has only a small population of Hispanics, a group that has favored Clinton.

The 20 GOP delegates are only awarded if a candidate gets a majority of the votes, a prospect enhanced now that Mitt Romney has suspended his campaign.

NEBRASKA DEMOCRATIC CAUCUSES:
The stakes: 24 Democratic delegates.

The campaign: Obama was the only candidate visiting Nebraska.

Michelle Obama campaigned for her husband Friday in Lincoln. Obama has run TV ads in Omaha and Lincoln, and a radio spot in rural areas.

Clinton introduced a 30-second ad that features a testimonial from former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey. Chelsea Clinton spoke to university crowds.

Lay of the land: The Clinton campaign claimed a strong grass-roots organization. Obama has been endorsed by state party leaders and lawmakers as well as by Sen. Ben Nelson, the only Democratic member of the state's congressional delegation.

KANSAS REPUBLICAN CAUCUSES:
The stakes: 36 Republican delegates.

The campaign: McCain campaigned in Wichita on Friday on his way to Seattle; Huckabee had events in Olathe, Wichita, Topeka and Garden City.

Lay of the land: McCain was favored even before Romney's departure, but Huckabee also hoped to do well, on the strength of social conservatives. State party leaders had split endorsements between McCain and Romney.

"An election is about a choice," Huckabee said in Olathe on Friday, "not a coronation."

MAINE DEMOCRATIC CAUCUSES:
The stakes: 24 Democratic delegates.

The campaign: Clinton planned to campaign at the University of Maine in Orono and Obama planned a rally in Bangor, both on Saturday. Bill Clinton was the advance man for his wife, rallying Thursday in Portland.

Lay of the land: Gov. John Baldacci is backing Clinton and led several dozen state lawmakers in a rally for her.

Clinton introduced a 30-second ad asserting: "I intend to be a president who stands up for all of you" after seven years with a president who stood up for "oil companies, the predatory student loan companies, the insurance companies and the drug companies."

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Associated Press writers John Hanna in Olathe, Kan., David Ammons in Seattle, Anna Jo Bratton in Omaha, Neb., Brian Schwaner in New Orleans, Glenn Adams in Augusta, Maine, and Stephen Ohlemacher in Washington contributed to this report.


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