3/2/08

The Clintons' unions resist KO

Sen. Barack Obama has bought large amounts of advertising and built extensive get-out-the-vote organizations in order to deal Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton defeats in Ohio and Texas on Tuesday intended to end her candidacy. The intensity of Obama's drive is especially apparent on television, where, using his huge financial advantage, he has outspent Clinton by nearly two to one in the two states, helping him to eat deeply into double-digit leads in polls she held just weeks ago.

But after a month in which Clinton raised $32 million — a remarkable sum but still less than the $50 million or more brought in by Obama — a travel schedule sent Clinton and Obama and their surrogates hurtling from border to border in Texas and Ohio, reflecting the expectation that the voting on Tuesday may be climactic. Clinton's advisers have suggested that she would bow out of the race if she lost either state, after 11 straight losses.

Their face-offs are not just on television. Obama has a town-hall-style meeting Westerville, Ohio, on Sunday afternoon. Clinton just announced one there, too. Obama will be at Westerville Central High School, Clinton at Westerville North High School.

In a sign of his confidence and his strategy of amassing delegates wherever he can, Obama planned to spend part of Saturday in Rhode Island, which with Vermont votes on Tuesday.

Polls suggest that the race is deadlocked in Texas; Clinton's lead in Ohio has been whittled away, but her supporters said she remained optimistic about a victory in Ohio.

"Sen. Obama is spending a lot of money on TV. If this can be purchased, he can win it," Gov. Ted Strickland, who has campaigned across the state with Clinton, said in an interview. "I think we've survived the initial blast of the Obama phenomenon, and we're now holding steady."

In Texas, Clinton presented a television advertisement starkly suggesting that Obama was not ready to lead the world in dangerous times, while in Ohio she appealed to blue-collar voters by attacking trade and tax policies that she said unfairly protected corporations.

Obama used his Texas advertisements to denounce business as usual in Washington, reprising an attack on Clinton. In Ohio, he emphasized his opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was passed while Bill Clinton was president.

Obama has spent about $10 million on television advertising in Texas from early in February through Election Day, campaign officials said; Clinton has spent just less than $5 million. Obama has spent about $5.3 million for television advertising in Ohio, compared with just under $3 million for Clinton, the officials said.

Those figures do not take into account substantial advertising being presented for Obama by the Service Employees International Union. It also does not include money that Obama and Clinton spent in Texas on Spanish-language television and radio stations in a competition for Latino voters who Clinton had once considered an unassailable part of her base. "I have many friends in Texas; I know your tradition and culture," Clinton said in one broadcasting in Houston this weekend, speaking into the camera as subtitles translate her remarks into Spanish.

Obama's financial advantage is helping him beyond the airwaves.

His campaign flew 200 paid organizers from across the country to 10 campaign offices in Texas right after the Feb. 5 primaries, aides said, when some of Clinton's staff members were volunteering to work without pay. Another 150 were sent to build get-out-the-vote networks in Ohio, working for Paul Tewes, who was the Obama campaign's director in Iowa, where Obama's eight-point victory gave his campaign a boost.

Clinton's on-the-ground effort is no less aggressive and extensive; in particular, she has tapped into the network of support provided to her by Strickland. But in both states, her corps of workers is made up largely of volunteers, many from the two states. Others came here and to Texas on their own dime, typically from Washington and New York, some responding to an e-mail plea sent out by Chelsea Clinton.

"We need as many people on the ground in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont as we can get," Chelsea Clinton wrote.

To deal with the geographic demands of two diverse states, Clinton and Obama were relying on surrogates to carry their message. For Clinton, it was Dick Gephardt, the former House majority leader from Missouri, who was a longtime opponent of trade deals like NAFTA and was campaigning in the blue-collar Mahoning Valley.

For Obama, it was Arcade Fire, the popular indie-rock group who announced they would perform for Obama at Stuart's Opera House in Nelsonville on Sunday. Nelsonville is not far from Ohio University and many of the younger voters that Obama seeks.

(Aides to Clinton, distressed at the defection of a band with many fans in the Clinton headquarters, noted that the band was Canadian; in fact, while its members live there now, they grew up in Texas.)

If the Clinton and Obama campaigns succeed at their goals, every Democrat in the state will get a knock on the door from a supporter of one candidate or the other. Thousands of Obama's supporters gathered Saturday morning at 75 staging stations.

In Texas, Obama's campaign began the final part of its Caucus Education Program to make certain its supporters understand a complicated Texas voting procedure. It includes first a primary, where two-thirds of the delegates are chosen, followed by a caucus, where the remaining third are picked. Volunteers went door-to-door, leaving pamphlets explaining what the campaign has come to call the Texas Two Step, to remind Obama's supporters that they had to vote twice.

Obama has repeatedly defeated Clinton in caucuses, and his aides said that because of that, Obama could end up winning more delegates on Tuesday, even if he loses the popular vote. Clinton's aides said Saturday that in part because of defeats she had suffered to Obama in caucuses, they had made an all-out effort to identify voters who would get out for both the primary during the day and caucus at night.

Obama has been particularly aggressive in these contests in using Internet tools to identify and turn out supporters, building on tools they have developed throughout the campaign. For example, anyone using the search engine Google to look for Texas caucus locations will see an advertisement from Obama's campaign listing the caucus sites, and, after a click, inviting people to sign in with their names and e-mail addresses.

Visitors to the Web sites of The Houston Chronicle and The Cincinnati Enquirer were confronted with a moving advertisement that took up nearly half the screen that showed a video of Obama and urged voters to sign up and pledge their support to his campaign.

"We are trying to grow the electorate," said David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager, referring to the Internet effort. "We have had almost 20,000 people come through our ads looking for their early vote location."

In Ohio, both candidates have focused on the urban areas and suburbs around major cities, but Clinton is campaigning as well in rural and areas and southeast Ohio, which she views as one of the strongest parts of the state. (It is where Strickland did particularly well in his election as governor.)

In Texas, both candidates staged last-minute efforts in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, where both Clinton and Obama had rallies Friday evening. Clinton's campaign brought in Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa of Los Angeles as part of an extensive roster of Latino surrogates sent across South Texas, reflecting the intensity of the struggle for those voters.

Obama focused on parts of the state with large concentrations of black residents, from Beaumont in East Texas to Houston, both with significant populations of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina.

To some extent, it is in the interest of the Clinton campaign to point to the financial disparity to try to lower expectations and provide a pre-emptive explanation for a loss or close showing. "They are dumping a lot of money there," said Mark Penn, Clinton's chief strategist, referring to the Obama campaign.

That said, Clinton had been enjoying double-digit leads in both states just two weeks ago, and her advisers have discounted the string of defeats that shook her campaign over the past month by pointing to Ohio and Texas as the states that would get her campaign back on track.

Other Democrats said that even a narrow victory in both states might not be enough to stanch a flow of uncommitted superdelegates — elected officials and party leaders — to Obama who have until now deferred to the request by Clinton's advisers to wait for the vote in the two states.

The extent of Obama's financial advantage was increasingly clear this weekend and stirred concern among Clinton's supporters.

Obama has already begun spending money on staffing and television advertisements in some states coming up after Tuesday; Clinton's expenditures there have been minimal. While that decision makes sense considering the stakes here, Clinton's campaign came under much criticism as failing to prepare for the contests after Feb. 5, leaving an open field for Obama.

Clinton will hold a 60-minute town-hall-style forum on Monday near Austin; her campaign bought time on the Fox sports channel to broadcast it statewide. Clinton's aides said part of the choice of that venue was to try to reach white male voters who have slipped away from her to Obama recently, but the bigger reason, they said, was that Fox is a relatively inexpensive television outlet.

Clinton's advisers said that a provocative television advertisement that she began broadcasting on Friday — showing children sleeping while a narrator asks who would be better able to deal as president with a middle-of-the-night telephone call or a crisis — would be shown only in Texas. Part of that strategy was based on the calculation that the security message would resonate better in Texas than Ohio, where the economy is the overwhelming issue. But another aspect, an aide said, was that the advertisements would gain free coverage in the Ohio news media, saving money.

(timesargus.com)

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