Democrats make their cases in Wisconsin

From Reuters

Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton traded fresh attacks and touted their economic leadership Saturday as they took their Democratic presidential duel to Wisconsin.

Clinton announced she would cut her campaign schedule in Wisconsin by a day and leave Monday, raising questions about her confidence in Tuesday's primary.

Her husband, former President Clinton, has been in the state and her daughter, Chelsea, will stay on to campaign.

"We're going to be here through Monday, and given the press of all the events that are going on -- Chelsea will be back in the state, Bill obviously was here. We have great surrogates," Clinton told reporters on a stop at a bratwurst restaurant in Kenosha.

Obama, a first-term senator from Illinois, has beaten Clinton in the last eight contests and gained the upper hand in their battle to become the party's nominee.

Obama has spent four days in Wisconsin since his last round of victories Tuesday, and he has a slight lead in state opinion polls. Clinton has focused on March 4 primaries in Ohio and Texas, counting on victories there to revive her campaign.

Clinton kept up her criticism of Obama for refusing to debate her before the Wisconsin vote. She aired two ads last week criticizing him on the issue.

"There are real differences here that we deserve to explore, and the people of Wisconsin deserve to have answers to their questions," the New York senator said.

Obama ran an ad responding to the attacks.

"After 18 debates, with two more coming, Hillary says Barack Obama is ducking debates? It's the same old politics," an announcer says in Obama's ad.

Obama rejected her criticism that he was all talk and no action, and that he lacked her substance and experience.

"The question is not who has got the policies," Obama said at a rally in Eau Claire. "The question is who can get them done, who can bring people together."

Obama and Clinton are scheduled to debate Thursday in Texas, and the following week in Ohio.

Democrats in Hawaii also vote Tuesday, and Obama, who was born in the state, is expected to win there. Wisconsin and Hawaii have a combined 94 delegates.

Both candidates have been focusing on the economy. Ohio and Wisconsin are swing states with economic problems and large populations of blue-collar Democrats, a key part of Clinton's constituency.

Clinton hopes to profit in Texas through her strength among Latinos, who are expected to be at least 25% of the state's Democratic vote.

The candidates appeared separately Saturday night at a dinner in Milwaukee.

"It will take more than just speeches to fulfill our dreams. It will take a lot of hard work," Clinton said. "I know that some people have said that I am tough. You know what, we need a tough president."

Obama said he would be better suited to take on Republican front-runner John McCain on foreign policy, noting Clinton's Senate votes to authorize war in Iraq and to label an Iranian military unit a terrorist group, as well as her criticism of his willingness to talk to rogue foreign leaders.

"If I am the nominee of this party, John McCain will not be able to say that I agreed with him on voting for the war in Iraq; agreed with him on giving George Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran; and agree with him in embracing the Bush-Cheney policy of not talking to leaders we don't like," Obama said.

Victories in Texas and Ohio have become crucial for Clinton as she tries to make up a gap with Obama in the race for pledged delegates.

Clinton advisor Harold Ickes said she would nearly catch Obama in the delegate race if she won those two states, and the two would be about even when the primary process ended in June. He said she would battle all the way to the convention, if necessary.

The ultimate winner could be determined by support from 796 superdelegates -- party insiders and elected officials who are free to back any candidate.

McCain took the day off Saturday. He is expected to gain the endorsement of former President George H.W. Bush at an event in Houston on Monday.

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