Clinton and Obama swing the spotlight to Ohio

Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

With less than two days to go before Tuesday's crucial primary elections, Democratic presidential contenders Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama barnstormed across Ohio on Sunday, with Clinton seeking to shore up support in a state where she holds a slim lead in the polls and Obama deriding his Senate colleague for her "experience" in foreign policy.

After focusing on national security in Texas on Saturday, Clinton shifted her emphasis to the economy during Sunday's rallies in the Buckeye State, which has been hit hard by the loss of thousands of manufacturing jobs in recent years.

In Westerville, Clinton pledged to fight predatory lending practices and to create millions of jobs. "The middle class is under tremendous pressure," she said. "The question is: How are we going to make progress together?"

Later, she told about 1,000 supporters in Youngstown that she had a better economic plan than either Obama or Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican nominee.

"McCain has said he doesn't know much about the economy other than he's going to continue the Bush policies," she told a packed crowd in the gym at Austintown Fitch High School.

Clinton also promised to abolish tax breaks for companies that send jobs overseas.

"I have been critical of NAFTA," she said, referring to the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. "Unlike my opponent in the primary, I've put together a very specific plan for what we're going to do about it."

Earlier in the day, at a rural economy event in the Appalachian town of Nelsonville, Obama lashed out at Clinton for her position on NAFTA.

"Here's the truth: Globalization is not going away," said Obama, who favors stronger labor and environmental protections in NAFTA. "Sen. Clinton talks about [how] she wants a pause in our trade deals. The world will not pause. China's not pausing. India's not pausing. They're going full guns.

"And the only way we are going to compete is if our children are better prepared, better equipped, stronger at math, stronger at science, are creating the innovations that create high value and as a consequence higher wages," he said.

The Illinois senator then followed Clinton into Westerville, where he told a raucous rally that he has "tried as much as possible to spend my campaign talking not about the flaws of the other candidates, but [about] why I'm running." But he took jabs at Clinton, deriding her for voting to authorize the war in Iraq and for her argument that "she has supposedly all this massive foreign policy experience."

"When it came time to make the most important foreign policy decision of our generation -- the decision to invade Iraq -- Sen. Clinton got it wrong," Obama said.

"She didn't read the National Intelligence Estimates. I don't know what all that experience got her. Because I have the experience to know that when you have a National Intelligence Estimate and the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee says, 'You should read this, this is why I voted against the war,' then you should probably read it."

Obama was referring to then-Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), who was head of the committee in 2002 when the Senate voted to authorize military action against Iraq. Graham encouraged his colleagues to read the intelligence report. Few did.

Clinton also didn't give diplomacy a chance to work in Iraq, Obama charged in one of his harshest critiques to date of her record, adding that she will not admit "that her vote was a mistake, or that it was even a vote for war."

The New York senator is scrambling to recover from 11 straight primary and caucus losses and has struggled to counter Obama's messages of hope and change. As her once-considerable lead has evaporated, she has sharpened her attacks, accusing her rival of empty oratory.

Brenda Risacher, 54, who attended Clinton's first event in Westerville, echoed those charges.

"Obama is a showman -- very theatrical," she said, adding that if Clinton lost the Democratic nomination to Obama, she would not vote for him in the general election.

Clinton's campaign stops Sunday were part of an "88 counties in 88 hours" sprint across the state.

Speaking to reporters, Clinton's state director in Ohio, Robby Mook, pointed to a bevy of state leaders, including Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, who have endorsed the former first lady. Yet in recent contests, Clinton's support from the Democratic establishment has not proved a match for Obama's organization on the ground.

Clinton is under pressure to win the primaries in delegate-rich Texas and Ohio by wide margins. According to the latest polls, she has a slight lead over Obama in Ohio, a swing state in recent general elections, and is virtually tied with him in Texas. Voters also go to the polls in Vermont and Rhode Island on Tuesday.

In an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday morning, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who dropped his bid for the Democratic nomination in January, described the Texas and Ohio contests as "D-Day."

"Whoever has the most delegates after Tuesday, a clear lead, should be, in my judgment, the nominee," he said.

Richardson, one of about 800 superdelegates to the Democratic convention, has not yet endorsed a candidate, and said Sunday that he was "legitimately torn."

Clinton briefly left the campaign trail to appear on "Saturday Night Live" for a skit about Obama getting preferential treatment by the media -- a frequent complaint from her campaign. She is scheduled to appear tonight on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."

Obama headed home to Chicago on Sunday night and plans to campaign in Texas today.

Roug is traveling with Clinton and La Ganga with Obama.

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