10-24-2016  1:53 am      •     
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MISSOULA, Montana (AP) -- With no end in sight to the hard-fought Democratic presidential battle, both Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton were already launching their campaigns Saturday in western states that will be among the last to hold primary contests.
Obama and Clinton were scrapping for every last nominating convention delegate in a contest that is now expected to continue through the last scheduled primary contests on June 3 in South Dakota and Montana.
At the start of the primary season, Montana Democrats had little reason to expect that the presidential candidates would be paying much attention to their state's primary in which only 17 delegates are at stake.
But on Saturday evening, both Clinton and Obama were scheduled to speak at the state party's annual dinner in Butte, which was expected to draw about 4,000 Democratic activists. Both candidates also appeared late Friday at the opening of the state Democratic convention in North Dakota in hopes of picking up an extra delegate or two.
On Friday, the White House hopefuls solemnly honored the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the 40th anniversary of the civil rights leader's slaying, paying tribute to a man whose memory takes on particular significance in a historic race that could result in the country's first woman or black president.
Clinton, Obama and McCain each reflected on King's cause, while nudging forward their presidential bids as a new government report showed unemployment hit 5.1 percent in March.
The two Democrats seized on the report, linking McCain with what they see as President George W. Bush's failed economic policies.
"Perhaps this jobs report will also help John McCain recognize that doing nothing is not an economic strategy in times of urgent need," said Clinton, who is vying to become the U.S.'s first woman president. The New York senator proposed a second economic stimulus of at least $30 billion (euro19 billion) to help states combat the foreclosures that have ravaged some communities.
Obama, the Democratic front-runner who would be the U.S's first black president, accused Bush of hurting people with an economic policy "in which basically the answer to every problem is tax cuts for the wealthy."
The Illinois senator also linked King's work to the present, saying economic justice is "still out of reach for too many Americans."
The focus on the economy _ a fixture in the campaigns _ reflects the importance the issue has taken in the election. Economic concerns have topped the Iraq war among voter worries.
McCain, who has been portrayed by the Democrats as weak on the economy, said in a statement that Obama and Clinton's proposals would hamper economic growth.
Speaking in Memphis in front of the balcony where King was shot in 1968, McCain said the civil rights leader "seems a bigger man" than he did on the day of his death.
"The quality of his character is only more apparent," he said, telling a black audience that he had been wrong to vote against legislation making King's birthday a holiday.
McCain's decision to speak at ceremonies held by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which King had headed, was intended to demonstrate an eagerness to appeal to black voters who have long shunned Republicans. A few boos were heard as McCain spoke, but others offered up calls of "Amen" throughout his speech.
Clinton spoke at the church where King delivered his final sermon a day before his death.
The former first lady recalled her distress at learning of his death while she was a college student. She added that "because of him, after 219 years and 43 presidents who have all been white men, this generation will grow up taking for granted that a woman or an African-American could be president of the United States."
Obama was the only one of the three to not appear in Memphis. Addressing a rally in Indiana, he said King's pleas have yet to be answered fully.
"You know, Dr. King once said that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. ... But here's the thing _ it does not bend on its own. It bends because each of us in our own ways put our hand on that arc and we bend it in the direction of justice," Obama said.
A Gallup poll showed Obama with a a slight lead nationally over Clinton in the Democratic presidential race, at 49 percent to 44 percent. The survey conducted April 1-3 had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Obama leads in the delegate count, 1,635-1,501, according to The Associated Press. Because of the way Democrats apportion delegates, Clinton is not likely to catch Obama even if she has a strong showing in the remaining 10 contests, including the 158 at stake in the next contest in Pennsylvania on April 22.
That leaves the race largely in the hands of the 800 so-called superdelegates _ party leaders, lawmakers and officials who are not bound by state results when casting their vote.
Also, Clinton on Friday released her tax records for the past eight years, under pressure from Obama's campaign and others to detail her finances. Clinton and her husband reported $20.4 million (euro13 million) in income for 2007 and more than $109 million (euro69 million) since 2000. Almost half the former first couple's money came from Bill Clinton's speeches.

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