(CBS/AP) Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton labored to revitalize her restructured political operation Wednesday, testing a new line of criticism against presidential rival Sen. Barack Obama and voicing confidence in the face of challenging weeks ahead.
"I am in the solutions business," she told more than 4,000 supporters in a packed fairgrounds here. "My opponent is in the promises business."
A day after suffering lopsided losses in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, Clinton acknowledged Obama's victories, but offered a taunt as well.
"I want to congratulate Senator Obama on his recent victories and tell him to meet me in Texas," she told reporters in McAllen. "We're ready."
It was bravado talk for a candidate whose campaign has been staggered by defeats since the Feb. 5 Super Tuesday contests, who is behind in fundraising and who has reshuffled her campaign staff. Clinton is now looking to be competitive in the Wisconsin primary on Tuesday and then prevail in Ohio and Texas on March 4.
Obama has been lavishing attention on the historically independent voters of Wisconsin. Clinton is moving belatedly to make a contest of next Tuesday's Democratic presidential primary. Obama, the junior senator from neighboring Illinois has spent more time in Wisconsin than the former first lady. He drew 4,000 people at a rally last October and beat Clinton back to Wisconsin this year.
Speaking before a crowd in Waukesha, Obama sounded like a man warming up for the general election, CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds reports.
"If you want the same as we've had the last seven years, then I think John McCainn is going to be a great choice," he said.
At Janesville, he lumped both McCain and Clinton together in a derisive union.
"Politicians like John McCain and Hillary Clinton voted for a war in Iraq that should've never been authorized," he said.
But Clinton hasn't conceded the 74 delegates at stake in Wisconsin even though she has already begun campaigning for the larger delegate prizes offered in Texas and Ohio on March 4. Her advisers say the New York senator may not win Wisconsin but can't afford another of the lopsided defeats she suffered in three mid-Atlantic primaries Tuesday.
Clinton campaign advisers said Wednesday that her fundraising was rebounding after Obama outraised her 2-to-1 in January and predicted that her hunt for delegates to the national nominating convention would catch up to Obama on March 4 when Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont vote. The Clinton camp is especially counting on victories in Ohio and Texas.
Her history in Texas, her institutional support among Democrats in the state and an affinity for the Clinton name among Hispanics, one of her most loyal voting blocs, all attest to her firewall strategy in the state.
But a complicated delegate selection system, Obama's momentum and erosion in Clinton's traditional support coalition could deny her the kind of decisive win in the state she needs to reverse her post-Feb. 5 slide.
"You go on," she said at a news conference. "Some weeks one of us is up and the other is down, and then we reverse it. ... It's a long and winding road."
Following his Tuesday victories, Obama now has a 66-delegate lead over Clinton - 1,251 to 1,185, according to the latest tally by CBS News.
Clinton needs strong performances in Texas and Ohio to close the gap with Obama. Obama campaign manager David Plouffe told reporters in a teleconference call that Clinton would have to win both states by more than 20 percentage points. "And we certainly don't see any evidence of that," he said.
Clinton political and field director Guy Cecil said that after March 4 he expected the race will be in a virtual tie, with the candidates within 25 delegates of each other.
He said the campaign is opening offices and hiring staff in all remaining states that are left to vote, from Wyoming to Montana, Mississippi to Pennsylvania, and even in Puerto Rico.
Clinton's stepped up criticism of Obama was part of a campaign strategy to challenge him directly on the economy and health care on a day when Obama proposed to spend $210 billion over 10 years to create jobs in construction and environmental industries.
"I have solutions to these economic challenges; the question today is does Senator Obama?" she said. "A plan that fails to provide universal health care, fails to address the housing crisis, and fails to immediately start creating good paying jobs in America again will not turn the economy around."
Clinton has been drawing distinctions with Obama on health care since before the Iowa caucuses. Her plan would require every person to obtain health insurance and would provide government assistance to those who can't afford it. Obama would not mandate the purchase of health insurance, but would provide government subsidies to encourage more Americans to buy it. Clinton has said that would still leave up to 15 million people without insurance.
"This is the exciting part of a campaign," she told reporters. "What are the differences, how do you draw the distinctions."
Obama spokesman Bill Burton dismissed Clinton's criticism, noting that Obama's economic plan would address the housing crisis, provide a middle-class tax cut and create jobs. "While distorting your opponents' record may be the fun and exciting part of the campaign for Senator Clinton, it's exactly why millions of Americans are voting for change," he said.
Clinton also aired an ad in Wisconsin that captured the new strategy.
The ad challenges Obama to accept an invitation to debate at Marquette University. "Maybe he'd prefer to give speeches than have to answer questions," the narrator says.
Obama drew more than 17,000 at the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison Tuesday night. And he will appear in six other Wisconsin cities before Clinton even makes her first appearance on Saturday. The Obama camp doesn't want to risk a loss or even a surprisingly strong Clinton showing at a time when expectations for him are rising.
An internal memo that the Obama campaign accidentally sent to reporters last week projected a 7-point victory over Clinton in Wisconsin. The campaign expects strong support in urban Milwaukee and liberal Madison, and with stops at a Janesville auto plant and in industrial Racine on Wednesday he was trying to shore up support with blue-collar, union households that have been favoring Clinton.
Obama appears to be better organized in Wisconsin than Clinton, who looks to be throwing together her state operation at the last minute, said UW-Madison political scientist John Coleman.
Playing down expectations, the Clinton camp says Wisconsin's primary electorate is liberal and well-educated - the kind of voters who have strongly supported Obama. Even Milwaukee, the state's largest city and home to many of the white, working-class voters who have favored Clinton, is also 40 percent black.
Scrambling to prevent an Obama runaway, Clinton plans to spend three days in the state. On Tuesday, she squeezed in three satellite TV interviews with Milwaukee, Madison and Green Bay stations amid seven interviews with Texas and Ohio stations. Former President Clinton arrives on Thursday.
While her ad flickered on Wisconsin TV screens, Obama appeared live at Janesville's General Motors Corp., plant a day after the company posted the largest annual loss ever for a U.S. auto company - $38.7 billion in 2007. He strove to link his biggest difference with Clinton - over the Iraq war - to the economic problems that both campaigns have focused on here.
"The housing crisis that's cost jobs and wiped out savings was not an inevitable part of the business cycle," Obama said. "It was a failure of leadership and imagination in Washington ... where politicians like John McCain and Hillary Clinton voted for a war in Iraq that should've never been authorized and never been waged - a war that is costing us thousands of precious lives and billions of dollars a week" that could be used on infrastructure, job training and health care.
The state seems to offer opportunities, and handicaps, for both candidates. For every factor that favors Clinton there is one for Obama, said Charles Franklin, a University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor and polling expert.
While Clinton has more big union support in Wisconsin, only 25 percent of Democratic voters in 2004 earned less than $30,000. The same percentage earned more than $75,000, a group that has favored Obama elsewhere.
In the 2004 Democratic primary, 89 percent of voters were white, while blacks, who have overwhelmingly supported Obama this year, accounted for just 6 percent and Hispanics, who have been solidly behind Clinton, only 3 percent.
Wisconsin's open primary rules could give Obama an advantage this year. With the Republican race all but decided for John McCain, Obama may benefit from an influx of Republicans and independents, as he has in earlier primaries.
Both candidates were busy courting the student vote, a potentially huge factor. In the 2006 elections, Wisconsin led the nation in young voters at 17 percent.
Clinton and Obama need to persuade voters they can stand independently from party doctrine, said Mike Wittenwyler, a political consultant who helped run the 1998 campaign of popular Sen. Russ Feingold, who has said he likely won't announce who he is backing until after the primary. "I think the two Democrats have to be able to prove how they fit that Wisconsin mold of personality and independence."
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