February 17, 2008 / 4:47 PM / 10 years ago

WRAPUP 3-Clinton, Obama prepare for battle in Wisconsin

(Updates with Obama seeks Edwards’ endorsement, campaign stops canceled due to bad weather)

By Caren Bohan

MILWAUKEE, Feb 17 (Reuters) - John McCain, with little Republican opposition, focused on the November presidential election on Sunday while Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton prepared for their next big fight in Wisconsin.

With eight straight wins under his belt, Obama was hoping to make it two more on Tuesday in Wisconsin and Hawaii, where he was born. Recent polls have him ahead in Wisconsin, but not by much.

“This is something really different that’s happening from anything I’ve seen in politics, and I think that it is going to be a close race,” Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, an Obama supporter, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “It’s very likely Barack Obama will win.”

Bad winter weather forced both Democrats to cancel campaign stops in Wisconsin on Sunday.

Clinton, the New York senator who has seen her big lead in the national polls disappear, called off all scheduled events and instead visited several spots in Milwaukee, where she had spent the night.

“I need your help on Tuesday,” she told one family as she mingled with voters at Miss Katie’s diner and sat down for a lunch of corned beef hash and eggs. Asked what she thought her chances were in the election, she said, “I‘m feeling good today.”

Obama, the Illinois senator who would be the first black U.S. president, traveled to North Carolina on Sunday morning to seek former opponent John Edwards’ endorsement. Both Obama and Clinton, who already met with Edwards, hope to attract the former North Carolina senator’s supporters.

Obama and Edwards, who dropped out of the Democratic race in January, discussed “the state of the campaign and the pressing issues facing American families,” said Obama spokesman Bill Burton.

Edwards had emphasized the needs of working people during his candidacy, and Clinton has picked up on his message of economic populism.

‘I CAN OUT-CAMPAIGN THEM’

McCain, the Arizona senator and prisoner of war during the Vietnam conflict, has all but clinched the Republican nomination even though his chief rival, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, is still in the race.

In an interview aired on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, McCain looked ahead to the fall campaign and said he would paint the Democrats as liberal while stressing his conservative credentials.

“I can out-campaign them, and I can out-debate them, and I can out-perform them in what I think my vision for America is more in keeping with the majority of Americans,” McCain said.

But McCain has had problems getting the conservative wing of his own party behind him. He said he was making progress toward that end.

“We’ve got to reunite the party, and we’ve got to re-energize the party,” he said. “And I‘m prepared to do that. We’ve got plenty of time. But I won’t waste a day.”

On Monday, McCain will pick up a major endorsement from former President George H.W. Bush, the father of President George W. Bush. The president has not endorsed anyone but has made it is clear he is ready to back McCain once he clinches the nomination.

After Tuesday’s voting, Democrats have an eye on March 4, when the big states of Texas and Ohio hold primaries.

Victories in those states have become vital for Clinton, who would be the first woman president, as she tries to close the gap with Obama in the race for pledged delegates awarded by the state-by-state contests to pick a Democratic nominee.

The ultimate winner could be determined by support from 796 “superdelegates” -- party insiders and elected officials who are free to back any candidate.

Clinton supporters think the superdelegates should vote for who they think would make the best candidate, while Obama backers say they should go for the candidate who got the most votes in the nominating contests. Right now, that is Obama.

“They should pay attention to what’s going on and make a judgment as to who would be the strongest candidate, based on the results of the primaries,” David Axelrod, chief campaign strategist for Obama, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“The superdelegates are supposed to vote their conscience,” responded Howard Wolfson, the counterpart for Clinton. “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.”

Writing by David Wiessler and Cynthia Osterman; Editing by Philip Barbara To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/

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