12-08-2016  9:46 pm      •     

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Barack Obama campaigned in Wisconsin Saturday as he reached out for support among working-class voters just days ahead of the Midwestern state's primary where Hillary Rodham Clinton hopes to begin her comeback in the closely contested Democratic presidential race.
On the Republican side, John McCain moved closer to securing the party's nomination as he picked up a total of 50 national nominating delegates from Michigan and Louisiana, where state conventions divided up delegates to the party's national convention in September.
Obama crisscrossed Wisconsin ahead of Tuesday's primary to shore up his support. He met with students, faculty and community members at Northcentral Technical College in Wausau, where he called for making community colleges more affordable to help workers gain the skills needed to compete in a rapidly changing economy.
"Americans should not be denied an education because they cannot pay for it," Obama said.
At a later stop at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Obama told about 3,500 supporters that if elected president he would improve trade agreements, boost the minimum wage, provide college tuition tax credits and end the war in Iraq in 2009.
He dismissed Clinton's arguments that she is the better candidate because of her longer tenure in Washington.
"We don't need somebody to play the Washington game better -- we need to end the game plan," Obama said.
Clinton was making her first Wisconsin campaign stop on Saturday afternoon at a bratwurst restaurant in Kenosha. The two rivals both planned to attend a state Democratic Party dinner Saturday night in Milwaukee.
Obama now leads the chase for nominating delegates after winning eight straight head-to-head contests with Clinton since they battled to a split decision in the 22 contests on Feb. 5, Super Tuesday. But Clinton hopes to put a brake on his gathering momentum by surprising the Illinois senator in Wisconsin, a state he is expected to win.
A poll released Friday showed Obama with 47 percent, but Clinton close behind with 42 percent. However, a large group of respondents, 11 percent, remain undecided and could tip the race to either candidate. The poll conducted by Research 2000 for WISC-TV in Madison, Wis., interviewed 400 likely Democratic voters by phone Feb. 13-14, with a sampling error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
A strong showing in Wisconsin could help Clinton in the run up to the March 4 primaries in Ohio and Texas, which could determine the fate of her campaign.
Campaigning Friday at a packed high school gym outside Cleveland, Ohio, the New York senator and former first lady she repeated what is becoming her standard anti-Obama line.
"There is a big difference between speeches and solutions, between talk and action," she said. "I just believe that if you were hiring a president, I would be the one you would hire for the job."
She has even altered Obama's signature chant of hope -- "Yes we can!" -- into one of determination -- "Yes we will!"
Clinton has relied on working-class Democrats for much of her support in six weeks of presidential primary contests across the country and is counting on them to pull her through upcoming high-stakes primaries in industrial states.
But it was Obama who collected a key endorsement Friday from the Service Employees International Union, a powerful political force with 1.9 million members. At the same time the Illinois senator criticized his rival for supporting legislation harmful to workers such as the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico implemented while Bill Clinton was in the White House.
Clinton is now running a three-pronged strategy: She is honing a tough new populist message, she is sharpening her criticism of Obama and she is presenting herself as the candidate who is better schooled in the intricacies of government policy.
At a stop in northern Ohio on Friday, Clinton heaped praise and criticism on her opponents. She said Obama has run an "extraordinary campaign," and called McCain "a man of great heroism." But she said McCain represents "more of the same" in Iraq, and she cast Obama as an obstacle to universal health care.
Obama, who has relied on a coalition of African-American voters and well-educated upscale Democrats, has recently been winning key labor endorsements that could cut into Clinton's base of core supporters and give him an organizational boost in upcoming contests in states with large numbers of working-class voters.
Obama's advisers say even though some of his supporters assume she is on the verge of collapse, it would be a mistake to underestimate the Clintons. They have proven their ability again and again to make a comeback when they were at their lowest.
Obama now leads the chase for nomination delegates 1,280-1,218. It takes 2,025 delegates to secure the presidential nomination at the party's convention this summer in Denver.
Meanwhile, in Obama's native state of Hawaii, neither Clinton or Obama made it to the far-away state ahead of Tuesday's Democratic caucuses there. But both were represented by family.
Clinton dispatched daughter Chelsea. "To see a woman break the ultimate glass ceiling is really inspiring to me," Chelsea Clinton told about 150 people at the University of Hawaii West Oahu campus Friday.
Obama's half-sister, Honolulu school teacher Maya Soetoro-Ng, spoke to about 100 people at the University of Hawaii Manoa campus Friday night. "You might ask, 'Should we be loyal to Barack Obama simply because he's a local boy?"' she told the crowd, which broke out into laughter when someone said, "Yes."
"You might say yes. I wouldn't argue with you," she said.
In the Republican race, John McCain, the party's presumptive nominee, led former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, by 48 percent to 32 percent in the Research 2000 poll of Republican voters in Wisconsin.
Since he took a commanding lead in the delegate count, McCain has been working to solidify his support from a Republican base unhappy with his unorthodox positions on some tax cuts, immigration, campaign finance laws, global warming, stem cell research and more


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