Ohio leftists pack the house for Barack

Sen. Barack Obama rallied a packed college basketball arena this afternoon, criticizing his chief opponent's support for trade treaties and bringing his criticism of the domestic auto industry to a city dotted with car plants.

Obama, campaigning in advance of the March 4 Ohio primary, filled the 9,000 seats at the University of Toledo's Savage Hall. He made only a couple mentions of his chief opponent for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton. His now-familiar appeal for hope and change was clearly tailored to a city and a state worried about the impact of international trade and the loss of factory jobs -- even when his comments might not have been popular.

As he has during months of speeches, TV commercials and debates, Obama brought up his May speech to the Detroit Economic Club, where he offered harsh criticism of Ford, GM and Chrysler for failing to build more fuel efficient cars.

"At first, nobody clapped," the Illinois senator said of the speech. It was a potentially touchy subject in a city where Chrysler employs more than 2,500 workers making Jeep SUVs. But he cast his call for more efficiency as vital to making the Detroit Three competitive and keeping their factories open.

"We can't let Toyota and Honda dominate the fuel efficient market," he said.

The crowd was a mix emblematic of what has become Obama's cross-cultural appeal: African-American families just out of church in their Sunday finest; college students in T-shirts and jeans; and union workers, including members of the Teamsters, which endorsed Obama this week. It was, said former Toledo mayor Keith Wilkowski, the largest rally in the city's history for anyone other than a sitting president.

The stakes in Ohio are high -- officials of both campaigns have suggested that Obama could install himself as the presumptive Democratic nominee if he can win here or in Texas, which also votes on March 4, while Clinton could re-energize her flagging hopes with significant wins in both. Both have focused on Ohio's economic troubles, a theme Obama used to draw a contrast between himself and Clinton.

"Senator Clinton has gotten mad at me because I've said she supported NAFTA," Obama said, referring to the North American Free Trade Agreement, finalized during the administration of Clinton's husband and deeply unpopular with labor.

Obama in mail advertising has criticized Clinton, saying she once supported NAFTA but now wants to change it. "You can't take credit for everything that was good in the Clinton administration and then not take credit for everything that people don't like," he said to cheers.


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