- The Washington Times - Monday, February 4, 2008

LOS ANGELES — The Democratic race is in a dead heat in California, the most important and competitive contest on Super Tuesday, an indication the nomination battle will stretch far beyond tomorrow.

Sen. Barack Obama got a surprise boost yesterday when Maria Shriver, married to Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said she was supporting the senator from Illinois.

An already excited crowd of Obama supporters here at UCLA for an event with Oprah Winfrey exploded into ear-splitting cheers when Michelle Obama announced that her husband was getting the endorsement from California’s first lady.

“If Barack Obama was a state, he’d be California,” Mrs. Shriver said, ticking off the reasons: “Diverse,” “open,” “smart,” “independent,” “bucks tradition,” “innovative,” “inspiring,” “dreamer,” “leader.”

She stressed the endorsement wasn’t because she is friends with Miss Winfrey and related to the Kennedy family members who also backed Mr. Obama. She said she’d just made up her mind and rushed to the event in such a hurry, she didn’t bother to brush her hair.

“California has a moment. …We can lead this country,” she said. “Remember that so goes California, so goes the nation.”

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who still leads the polls nationally and in many of the 22 states that vote tomorrow, was aiming to nab the endorsement of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. Former President Bill Clinton watched last night’s Super Bowl with Mr. Richardson in hopes of winning him over.

The backing of Mr. Richardson, who ended his bid to be the first Hispanic president last month, would help Mrs. Clinton shore up her already strong showing among Hispanic voters in key Super Tuesday states.

Mrs. Clinton of New York prepared to reach millions of people at once with a nationally televised town hall while Mr. Obama spent big bucks with a Super Bowl ad aimed at young voters in states that vote tomorrow and in later contests.

While both candidates attracted record crowds all over the country, Mrs. Clinton, campaigning in Missouri and Minneapolis yesterday, said she is more “tested” than Mr. Obama. She said she has withstood Republican attacks for years while Mr. Obama, serving his first term in the Senate, is still an unknown quantity.

“My opponent hasn’t had to go through that kind of baptism by fire,” she told a St. Louis rally. “This is going to be open season once again, and we need to nominate someone with the experience and the fortitude and the know-how to take whatever they send our way and send it right back.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Clinton visited four churches in mostly black sections of Los Angeles. The trip was widely seen as a bid to smooth over perceptions that he had injected race into last month’s Democratic primary in South Carolina, which Mr. Obama won handily.

Mr. Clinton never mentioned Mr. Obama by name when he spoke for about 20 minutes at the City of Refuge Church in Gardena and said both candidates make the country proud with the potential to make history. “I’m not against anybody,” he said.

City officials in Wilmington, Del., said Mr. Obama drew about 20,000 people at a rally at the Caesar Rodney Square yesterday. They said it was the largest event in recent memory, exceeding the number that turned out for New Year’s Eve festivities.

Both Mr. Obama and his wife offered his vision for America in campaign speeches.

Mr. Obama talked about what he said are his clear contrasts with other candidates, including Mrs. Clinton and the Republican front-runner, Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

“We need clarity in this campaign, and that is what I offer,” said Mr. Obama, hoping to capture voters in Delaware just days after his wife drew large crowds of her own there.

The Obama event in California was aimed at winning over female voters, and Mrs. Shriver’s backing helps on several levels. She is popular in her home state, and Mr. Schwarzenegger has endorsed Mr. McCain. She said she thinks Mr. Obama can unite the nation and the world.

Miss Winfrey, meanwhile, said yesterday she was “insulted” when some women “had the nerve” to call her a traitor for not backing Mrs. Clinton. “I am not a traitor, I’m just following my own truth, and the truth has led me to Barack Obama,” she said.

Miss Winfrey said voters are “free for the first time” to “vote as we believe,” and also rejected claims she only supports Mr. Obama because he is black. “I’m voting for Barack Obama not because he is black. I am voting for Barack Obama because he is brilliant,” she said.

“The two front-runners are a black man and a woman,” she said. “This election itself is a declaration of victory for women’s rights and civil rights.”

Mrs. Clinton offered a similar message yesterday when speaking at the Greater Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis, proclaiming it was a “great moment” when she and Mr. Obama shared a debate stage and that either one of them would make history.

The campaigns are preparing for a protracted battle, looking ahead to contests in Louisiana and Maine and the Mid-Atlantic region on Feb. 12.

“This is a hunt for delegates,” said Clinton strategist Mark Penn. “We’re going right through to the convention.”

Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs agreed: “What everyone once thought was going to end on Feb. 5 is really just going to be the next hurdle.”

California has 441 delegates at stake, and some polls show the candidates virtually tied or one with a slight edge over the other.

Polls and reports from the ground in the 22 states that vote tomorrow suggest the two candidates each will be able to claim their share of Super Tuesday victories. They should each capture huge chunks of the 2,075 delegates at stake, but not enough to clinch the nomination.

The proportional system means each candidate who wins 15 percent or more statewide or in the congressional districts will qualify for a share of the state’s delegates based on the percentage of their vote.

“It would be hard for one candidate to break away from the other unless they were sweeping the lion’s share of the states and winning them by large margins. With the polls as close as they are, the race will remain quite active after Super Tuesday, unless somebody unexpectedly wins everywhere,” said Rhodes Cook, a veteran election analyst.

Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, who managed Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign, agreed: “There’s no question this goes on for at least another three weeks.”

Mrs. Clinton was leading by substantial margins in states such as New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Tennessee, which would divide a total of 790 delegates among them, but Mr. Obama was closing the gap in both Missouri and Massachusetts.

In Georgia, which will award 103 delegates, and in Alabama, with 60 delegates, he holds strong leads and is expected to benefit from a large black vote.

Mrs. Clinton yesterday said on ABC’s “This Week” she would consider garnishing workers’ wages or creating automatic insurance enrollment to make sure her health care proposal covers everyone.

Mr. Obama argues her plan forces people to buy insurance and says his plan would lower costs not mandate coverage.

Donald Lambro contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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