Democrats Warm Up Wisconsin for Next Contest

Wisconsin is the next battleground in the Democratic nomination contest. Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both campaigned in the state Saturday.

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From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are waging a bitter battle in Wisconsin on this weekend before election day. Wisconsin voters go to the polls Tuesday. Obama hopes to extend his winning streak of eight straight primaries and caucuses since Super Tuesday. Clinton hopes to put the brakes on Obama's momentum. It's her last chance before big contests in Texas and Ohio on March 4th.

Both candidates were in Milwaukee for a Democratic Party dinner last night, and NPR's Scott Horsley was there.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Hillary Clinton's been running TV ads in Wisconsin complaining that Barack Obama won't debate her in the state. It wasn't exactly a debate last night, but in back-to-back speeches to a crowd of party activists. Clinton and Obama did outline sharply different visions of what the job of president requires.

Clinton talked about a hairdresser she'd met earlier in the day at a town hall meeting in Kenosha. The woman was worried about losing her home to foreclosure because her adjustable mortgage payments had nearly doubled, even as her own business was on the decline.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York, Presidential Candidate): I am reminded every single day why I do this. It's not about speeches for me, it's not about the bright lights and the cameras. It is about the changes we can make that actually deliver results in people's lives.

HORSLEY: Both Clinton and Obama had been reaching out to the large number of working class voters in Wisconsin where nearly four in ten Democrats say the economy is their biggest concern. Clinton promised that American workers would have a champion in Washington if she's the party's nominee.

Sen. CLINTON: Here in Milwaukee and in cities across America, janitors are cleaning up, waitresses are pouring coffee, police officers are standing guard, and they need a president who stands up for them.

HORSLEY: Both Clinton and Obama delivered lengthy talks on the economy this past week, outlining plans to help working families pay for housing, health care and a college education.

Obama said last night while they differ in some areas, they have a lot of ideas in common.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois, Presidential Candidate): Let's be clear, the problem we have is not the lack of good ideas. It's not the lack of good ideas. It's that Washington is the place where good ideas go to die.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORSLEY: Obama blamed that on lobbyists and on politicians who he says spend more time scoring political points then bridging their differences.

Sen. OBAMA: All too often it ends up being business as usual where we put forward all kinds of detailed plans and they get filed in drawers somewhere and the dust starts accumulating. Because nobody can inspire the country and build a working majority to actually deliver on the promises.

HORSLEY: Clinton countered that she knows better than anyone how hard it would be to carry out the Democrats' proposals. She peppered her speech with the phrase "get real," and said she has the necessary toughness to bring about real change in both foreign and domestic policy.

Sen. CLINTON: It's going to take strength and experience, something that goes along with the job. Change is going to happen. The question is are we going to get the right kind of change? Because what I'm interested is not just change for the sake of change, but progress.

HORSLEY: Clinton said it would take more than just speeches to achieve that. But Obama got the last word, and he defended the power of words to get Americans excited about what works in government.

Sen. OBAMA: Don't tell me words don't matter. I have a dream, just words? We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, just words? We have nothing to fear but fear itself, just words? Just speeches?

HORSLEY: Polls show Obama and Clinton in a close race in Wisconsin, and undecided voters could tip the balance. Senator Russ Feingold said last night he's grateful to the candidates for keeping it close so his home state of Wisconsin really matters.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Milwaukee.

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What's at Stake in the Wisconsin Primary?

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Wisconsin college students en route to a mock Democratic convention, in which student delegates attempt to predict the presidential nominee. Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images

Did You Know?

• The Wisconsin primary is open, meaning registered voters can participate in either party's contests. Voters can register the day of the primary.

• Wisconsin offers Democratic candidates 74 delegates, and Republicans, 40.

• Wisconsin's population is 87.5 percent white.

The next few weeks are crucial for both Democrats and Republicans, as the presidential candidates try to earn enough delegates to secure their parties' nominations.

On the Democratic side, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton could use a win between now and key March 4 contests in Texas and Ohio. The Wisconsin primary on Feb. 19 offers Clinton the chance to disrupt Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's winning streak. Since Super Tuesday, Obama has won eight contests in a row — most recently, in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

For the Republicans, Wisconsin will offer Arizona Sen. John McCain the chance to pick up more delegates. The state's demographic make-up — overwhelmingly white, with a large number of Democratic, independent and progressive voters — favors McCain: These groups have been the bedrock of much of his support during the primaries.

Look for campaign stops and television ads in Wisconsin in the coming days. Both Obama and Clinton (through her daughter, Chelsea) have already begun campaigning in the state.

The Democrats

Candidates: New York Sen. Hillary Clinton; Illinois Sen. Barack Obama

What's at Stake: Clinton and Obama are battling for the 74 delegates at stake in Wisconsin — and for the momentum that victory there would bring them going into the March 4 nominating contests in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Wisconsin's demographics would seem to favor Clinton, since she has done well with white, working-class voters in many primaries this year (Wisconsin's population is 87.5 percent white).

But the state boasts a history of progressive politics that could benefit Obama. The 1960 primary, for instance, was crucial in helping John F. Kennedy win the Democratic nomination over rival and fellow senator Hubert Humphrey.

In 2004, Howard Dean's failure to win the Wisconsin primary essentially ended the former Vermont governor's presidential campaign. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry carried the state that year and went on to win the nomination.

If Republican voters decide that their party's nomination is already locked up, they — and independent voters — could decide to participate in the Democratic contest; Wisconsin allows voters to participate in either party's primaries.

The Republicans

Candidates: Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; Arizona Sen. John McCain; Texas Rep. Ron Paul

What's at Stake: McCain has far more delegates than his rivals and is still perceived as the party's front-runner, but Huckabee has managed to continue winning — most recently, in Louisiana and Kansas. On Super Tuesday, he did especially well in the South, winning Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, West Virginia and Arkansas.

While Wisconsin does have a segment of evangelical voters — a group that overwhelmingly helped Huckabee win the Iowa caucuses — they have not been very active in the state's past primaries.

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