Democrats Fight for Votes in Wisconsin

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will spend Monday courting voters in Wisconsin ahead of Tuesday's primary. Bad weather forced Obama and Clinton to adjust their campaign schedules on Sunday.

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

The governor of Wisconsin is forecasting a close race on the Democratic side when voters there weigh in on the presidential contest. Storms in the Midwest yesterday forced Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to adjust their campaign schedules. Both will be courting voters in Wisconsin today on the eve of the primary.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Snow and freezing rain are not friendly to door-to-door canvassing. But Wisconsin voters have been treated to plenty of telephone calls, political mailers and TV ads. Wisconsin has become a high priority for both Democrats. Barack Obama is trying to extend his post-Super Tuesday winning streak and Hillary Clinton is looking to stop him.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Presidential Candidate): Wisconsin Democrats have a choice on Tuesday. It's not an easy choice, I recognize that. It's kind of a good problem to have, in a way.

HORSLEY: The tough choice facing Wisconsin Democrats was evident this weekend when both candidates spoke at a party dinner in Milwaukee. Retired English teacher Marlene Ott(ph) was sitting near the front with a Hillary Clinton button in her lapel.

Ms. MARLENE OTT: I've followed her career for many years. She's a very articulate woman, very bright, creative, really does work on solutions. Barack is a gifted speaker, but I think he needs more seasoning, more experience before I want to see him in the Oval Office.

HORSLEY: Dawn Martin, who was sitting right next to Ott, disagrees. She works for a clerical workers union that's backing Clinton but Martin herself prefers Obama, because of what she calls the charisma factor.

Ms. DAWN MARTIN: His youth, his dedication, his ability to cross along all avenues, I believe. I happen to be one of those older women that they claim aren't going to him. Well, I'm 60 and I love the man and I'm anxious to vote for him and support him.

HORSLEY: Another tablemate, County Supervisor Gwen Debruin(ph), is still undecided. In the hall outside the dinner, she bought a campaign button for both candidates, just in case.

Ms. GWEN DEBRUIN: I'm really trying to decide, do I pick based on who I feel is the best candidate or do I also let the influence of who I think stands a better chance of running against the Republicans.

HORSLEY: That's a question that hits close to home in Wisconsin, a state that Democrats carried by the slimmest of margins in the last two presidential contests.

Republican frontrunner John McCain and rival Mike Huckabee both campaign here today. Clinton told the Democrats she's ready to take on the GOP.

Sen. CLINTON: They'll throw everything they've got at whichever one of us is nominated. Well, I've been through it, I've beaten it, I'm still standing, and I will beat them again if I am your nominee.

HORSLEY: Clinton argues that Obama has not been similarly tested. But the Illinois senator countered he's equally ready to withstand Republican attacks.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): I've got to explain, I'm from the Southside of Chicago. I'm skinny but I'm tough.

(Soundbite of applause)

Sen. OBAMA: And I am looking forward to a debate with John McCain.

HORSLEY: Obama has a narrow lead over Clinton in the delegate count. But neither he nor Clinton is close to locking up the nomination like their Republican counterpart. McCain hopes to pass his magic number for nomination in the March 4 primaries in Texas and Ohio. Those states are not likely to settle the matter on the Democratic side, so a lot of attention has shifted to the roughly 800 elected officials and party leaders who are called superdelegates.

Obama strategist David Axelrod and Clinton spokesman Howard Wilson argued over the proper role of those superdelegates during an appearance yesterday on CBS.

Mr. DAVID AXELROD (Obama Strategist): Superdelegates doesn't mean that they should leap over will of the people in a single bound. If at the end of the day we have that lead, that verdict should not be overturned by party insiders, and I don't think that will happen.

Mr. HOWARD WILSON (Clinton Spokesman): Superdelegates are supposed vote their conscience, they're supposed to vote who they think will be the best person for the nation and for the party. That's why they were created and that's what they're going to do.

HORSLEY: But before they do anything there will be lots more voting for ordinary delegates over the weeks to come. In addition to the Wisconsin primary tomorrow, Democrats will hold caucuses in Hawaii. Inclement weather is not expected to be a factor there.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Milwaukee.

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