- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 17, 2008

KENOSHA, Wisc. — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday rallied her supporters then came out with a personal challenge for Sen. Barack Obama to debate her before Tuesday’s primary.

The New York Democrat complained about “the fact that he won’t debate me,” echoing arguments she’s made in two television ads. The two have debated just once face-to-face after the other candidates dropped out of the race.

Mr. Obama of Illinois noted they have had 18 debates and two more are scheduled, including one in Austin, Texas, Thursday. He called it the “same old Washington silliness” and also rejected her portrait that he is a talker while she is a doer.

Don’t let cynics convince you that somehow that you’re excited about a candidate or excited about a campaign there’s something wrong with that, Mr. Obama said Friday in Green Bay. At a Democratic Party dinner in Milwaukee last night, Mrs. Clinton said, It will take more than just speeches to fulfill our dreams. It will take a lot of hard work. An hour later Mr. Obama told the same crowd, The American people want to believe in change again and likened his oration to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Nothing to fear but fear itself speech and Martin Luther King’s I have a dream. Were those just speeches? he asked.

He added that he has been specific in his proposals for the country.

Mr. Obama leads Wisconsin polls and is aiming to capitalize on momentum after winning eight contests in a row, but Mrs. Clinton’s enthusiastic supporters yesterday loudly proclaimed she is far from out.

“I just want to say to the naysayers, give ‘em hell Hillary,” a man told her after her speech here, provoking the hundreds in the Brat Stop bar to chant “Hillary, Hillary, Hillary.”

Clinton advisers yesterday predicted she would win the nomination even though Mr. Obama leads in pledged delegates and has won more states so far.

Harold Ickes said he thinks Mrs. Clinton would lock it up after Puerto Rico’s June 7 contest and insisted she will fight on to the convention.

She told reporters she had “fun” campaigning with her husband in 1992 as it took him until June to wrap up his nomination.

“I’m prepared to go the distance,” she said.

Wisconsin’s contest was never expected to make a difference in the nomination battle because most campaign aides believed Super Tuesday would decide who would get the party nod. Now voters here, unlike those in other states, have been treated to negative ads as the candidates trade jabs about health care and Social Security policy.

Wisconsin voters said yesterday they were still making up their minds.

Undecided voter Karen Miller, a retired teacher from Kenosha, complained about the “dirty” ads she thinks both sides are using. “They should save it for the Republicans,” she said.

Pat O’Leary, a forester in Woodstock, said he was “totally open-minded” about the candidates, adding: “I’m not convinced a debate would help me make my decision. It’s tough.”

Republican candidates Sen. John McCain and former Gov. Mike Huckabee also campaigned in the Badger State, which Mr. Huckabee has blanketed with his “Christian leader” television ads.

Mr. McCain is positioned to become his party’s nominee, and yesterday picked up a total of 50 Republican Party national convention delegates from Michigan and Louisiana after Republicans from those states met to resolve how to divvy up delegates. He now leads Mr. Huckabee by more than 650 delegates.

The Democrats, meanwhile, promised voters they would work for the middle class by making college more affordable and by keeping jobs in the United States. Mrs. Clinton got big cheers for promising to roll back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.

“This president kind of ran a bit of a scam on us,” she said, because some got tax cuts, but energy, education and health care costs have skyrocketed.

“We need to say loudly and clearly we are going to have a country again who puts the American people, especially the middle class, first,” she said.

As voters waited for the former first lady at the Brat Stop, beer taps were running low. She was on time, but fans crammed into the saloon early, pressed up against the railings, standing on pool tables and overwhelming waitresses with beer and food orders.

Mrs. Clinton deflected local news reports that she was cutting short her campaign plans, saying she dropped one early Tuesday morning event for scheduling reasons and pointing out that her daughter Chelsea would be here instead.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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