- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 10, 2008

RICHMOND — Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton last night said they were ready to take the fight to Sen. John McCain, the presumed Republican presidential nominee, casting him as the second coming of President Bush.

“I am ready to go toe-to-toe with Sen. McCain whenever and wherever he desires,” Mrs. Clinton said at the Democratic Party of Virginia’s annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, which drew a record-breaking and rowdy crowd.

Mr. Obama, who laughed at being described as a “hope-monger,” said Mr. McCain has logged too much time in Washington.

“He speaks of a hundred-year war in Iraq and sees another on the horizon with Iran,” Mr. Obama said. “He once opposed George Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthiest few who don’t need them and didn’t ask for them. He said they were too expensive and unwise, … but somewhere along the line, the wheels came off the Straight Talk Express because he now he supports the very same tax cuts he voted against.”

An estimated 6,000 people attended the dinner where Mr. Obama, of Illinois, and Mrs. Clinton, of New York, spoke later in the evening, after arriving from Maine, where caucuses are being held today. Mrs. Clinton called Virginia a beacon of women’s rights and civil rights, lauding it as the first state to elect a black man to the governor’s mansion, L. Douglas Wilder.

But Mr. Wilder was not so enthusiastic about the Clintons, saying yesterday that he was still unhappy about former President Bill Clinton calling Mr. Obama’s account of his opposition to the Iraq war “a fairy tale.”

“Barack Obama is not a fairy tale. He is real,” he told reporters yesterday, adding that many others feel the same way. “A time comes and a time goes. The president has had his time.”

For her part, Mrs. Clinton said her generation took it for granted that women could vote, her daughter’s generation took it for granted that children of all colors could attend school together and the next generation will take it for granted that “a woman or African-American can be president.”

Mr. Obama won the loudest ovations from a crowd that chanted “yes, we can,” one of his presidential slogans.

“We are tired of being disappointed by our politics,” where lawmakers worry more about the next election than doing what is right for war veterans, he said. “People want to turn the page; they want to write a new chapter.”

Results from states holding primaries or caucuses last night showed that Mr. Obama won Washington, Nebraska, Louisiana and the Virgin Islands, cutting into the former first lady’s slim delegate lead.

The annual event was not the typical get-together for state Democrats this year, considering the party nomination is essentially decided this late in election seasons. Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton finished nearly tied in the Super Tuesday primaries last week, sending both candidates to Virginia before the primary Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Clinton crisscrossed the state for his wife, telling hundreds of supporters at rallies in Abingdon, Chesapeake and Richmond and at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg: “If you vote for her, you will send this message to the rest of the world: America is back.”

“She’s the best candidate for president,” he told a largely white crowd of about 400 people at the convention center in Richmond before he shared an e-mail about how a supporter donated to her campaign, rather than go out to dinner.

Caryl Quinn, 48, told The Washington Times after the rally that the former first lady has the “experience and knowledge” to push universal health care through Congress and that if Massachusetts is willing to support her, Virginia could as well.

Meanwhile, Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat and co-chairman for Mr. Obama’s presidential bid, participated in a push to get out the vote yesterday morning in Richmond. He also talked to reporters about the campaign in a conference call with Democratic Rep. Robert C. Scott of the 3rd Congressional District and voiced his support for Mr. Obama at the Jefferson-Jackson event.

Mr. Kaine said Mr. Obama is “trying to touch all the four big regions of the state” and that Virginians were “thrilled to have so much activity going on here between now and Tuesday.” He and Mr. Scott said Mr. Obama represented the party’s best chance of winning the state’s 13 electoral votes in the general election against Mr. McCain. Virginia has supported Republicans in presidential elections since 1964.

“We are anxious to be relevant in presidential politics again,” Mr. Kaine said.

Mr. Scott, supported by recent polls, said Mr. Obama is better positioned to beat Mr. McCain because, unlike Mrs. Clinton, he has “very few negatives and won’t turn away voters.” Other political observers suggest Mr. Obama’s advantages could play a pivotal role in Virginia’s primary, where party registration is not required. Bow that Mr. McCain is the presumed Republican nominee, it could push independent voters into the Democratic primary.

Inside the Stuart C. Siegel Center, Virginia Commonwealth University’s home basketball court, dinner guests in gowns and tuxedos sipped wine and awaited a dinner of sirloin steak and pan-seared salmon — or mushroom Napoleon for the vegetarians. Outside, a group of young women pumped “Honk for Hillary” signs while a marching band hired by the Obama campaign marched the streets.

Though both campaigns knew the importance of beating their party rival in Virginia, which will vote Tuesday along with Maryland and the District, also expressed concerns about Mr. McCain easily winning the Republican nomination and being well-rested for the national campaign.

Virginia Democrats last night said they hope the superdelegates who cast votes at the national convention will look at the results of the primaries and caucuses around the country and cast their votes accordingly.

Mr. Wilder said the 796 superdelegates — members of Congress, party leaders and others who hold 20 percent of the national convention votes … should not make their decisions based on “back-room deals” and “in smoke-filled rooms.” By most accounts, Mrs. Clinton has a solid edge among that group.

Obama and Clinton supporters knocked on hundreds of doors, talked on the radio and attended rallies yesterday. Both candidates also are spending money to air campaign commercials across Virginia.

A recent poll shows Mr. Obama with a double-digit lead. However, campaign staffers said they have learned not to count on polls.

Still, Mr. Obama has more support from some of Virginia’s biggest political figures, including Mr. Kaine, Mr. Scott, Mr. Wilder, and U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher of the 9th Congressional District. Former Gov. Mark Warner, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, has not endorsed anyone, but his wife, Lisa, is pulling for Mr. Obama.

Mr. Kaine continues to say Mr. Obama shares the moderate message that fueled Mr. Warner’s 2001 gubernatorial win, his own 2005 victory as governor and Sen. Jim Webb’s come-from-behind win last year.

“I know the independent voters and moderate Republicans very well, and many of them seem very excited about Obama’s candidacy,” Mr. Kaine said. “There is no one else running as a Democrat who created that level of excitement.” Heading into the day, Mrs. Clinton held a slight lead with 1,045 delegates to 960 for Mr. Obama, according to the Associated Press. The first candidate to win 2,025 delegates wins the party’s nomination. Virginia has 83 delegates in the primary election.


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