Clinton looks forward after losses

February 13, 2008 5:50:39 PM PST
Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton labored to revitalize her restructured political operation Wednesday, testing a new line of criticism against presidential rival Sen. Barack Obama and voicing confidence in the face of challenging weeks ahead.

"I am in the solutions business," she told more than 4,000 supporters in a packed fairgrounds here. "My opponent is in the promises business."

A day after suffering lopsided losses in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, Clinton acknowledged Obama's victories, but offered a taunt as well.

"I want to congratulate Senator Obama on his recent victories and tell him to meet me in Texas," she told reporters in McAllen. "We're ready."

It was bravado talk for a candidate whose campaign has been staggered by defeats since the Feb. 5 Super Tuesday contests, who is behind in fundraising and who has reshuffled her campaign staff. Clinton is now looking to be competitive in the Wisconsin primary on Tuesday and then prevail in Ohio and Texas on March 4.

Campaign advisers said Wednesday that her fundraising was rebounding at a rate of $1 million a day online after Obama outraised her 2-to-1 in January. They predicted that her hunt for delegates to the national nominating convention would catch up to Obama on March 4 when Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont vote. The Clinton camp is especially counting on victories in Ohio and Texas.

Her history in Texas, her institutional support among Democrats in the state and an affinity for the Clinton name among Hispanics, one of her most loyal voting blocs, all attest to her firewall strategy in the state.

But a complicated delegate selection system, Obama's momentum and erosion in Clinton's traditional support coalition could deny her the kind of decisive win in the state she needs to reverse her post-Feb. 5 slide.

"You go on," she said at a news conference. "Some weeks one of us is up and the other is down, and then we reverse it. ... It's a long and winding road."

Following his Tuesday victories, Obama now has a 55-delegate lead over Clinton - 1,275 to 1,220, according to the latest tally by The Associated Press.

Clinton needs strong performances in Texas and Ohio to close the gap. Obama campaign manager David Plouffe told reporters in a teleconference call that Clinton would have to win both states by more than 20 percentage points. "And we certainly don't see any evidence of that," he said.

Clinton political and field director Guy Cecil said that after March 4 he expected the race will be in a virtual tie, with the candidates within 25 delegates of each `other.

He said the campaign is opening offices and hiring staff in all remaining states that are left to vote, from Wyoming to Montana, Mississippi to Pennsylvania, and even in Puerto Rico.

Clinton's stepped up criticism of Obama was part of a campaign strategy to challenge him directly on the economy and health care on a day when he proposed to spend $210 billion over 10 years to create jobs in construction and environmental industries.

"I have solutions to these economic challenges; the question today is does Senator Obama?" she said. "A plan that fails to provide universal health care, fails to address the housing crisis, and fails to immediately start creating good paying jobs in America again will not turn the economy around."

Clinton has been drawing distinctions with Obama on health care since before the Iowa caucuses. Her plan would require every person to obtain health insurance and would provide government assistance to those who can't afford it. Obama would not mandate the purchase of health insurance, but would provide government subsidies to encourage more Americans to buy it. Clinton has said that would still leave up to 15 million people without insurance.

"This is the exciting part of a campaign," she told reporters. "What are the differences, how do you draw the distinctions."

Obama spokesman Bill Burton dismissed Clinton's criticism, noting that Obama's economic plan would address the housing crisis, provide a middle-class tax cut and create jobs. "While distorting your opponents' record may be the fun and exciting part of the campaign for Senator Clinton, it's exactly why millions of Americans are voting for change," he said.

Clinton also aired an ad in Wisconsin that captured the new strategy, challenging Obama to accept an invitation to debate at Marquette University.

"Maybe he'd prefer to give speeches than have to answer questions," the narrator says.

Associated Press writer Ann Sanner in Washington contributed to this report.