SCRANTON, Pa. — Hillary Clinton put up a new TV ad Monday arguing that she's the best candidate to handle madmen such as Osama bin Laden, and Barack Obama replied with an ad saying that he's the one to tame special interests, as the two warring Democrats rolled through Pennsylvania looking for last-minute support.
In his final appearance late Monday, Obama told a packed events center at the University of Pittsburgh that while he and Clinton agree on many policy prescriptions, he is better suited to bring about change.
"She is more committed to the status quo, Obama said. He called the invocation of bin Laden in Clinton's ad "a legitimate issue," though his campaign staff called it a scare tactic. He said voters needn't worry about his ability "to keep you safe" and argued he was better qualified to lead because he had opposed the Iraq war from the start.
Polls showed that Clinton maintained a 5- to 7-percentage-point lead through the weekend, small enough to suggest that Obama could pull an upset when the state's voters head to the polls Tuesday.
"I'm not predicting a win," Obama told a radio interviewer. "I'm predicting it's going to be close and that we are going to do a lot better than people expect."
About half the state's 4.2 million Democrats are expected to turn out. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
At stake in the first primary in six weeks are 158 delegates to the Democratic convention, but more important, momentum in the last big state scheduled to vote during the nominating season.
A loss by Clinton, who a month ago held a 15- to 20-percentage-point lead in Pennsylvania in most major polls, would probably be seen as devastating.
Obama has a different task: He must show that he can win in a big, diverse state. Even though he leads in delegates, 1,648 to 1,509, with 2,025 needed to nominate, he has been stung by losses to Clinton on similar turf, notably neighboring New Jersey and in Ohio.
Clinton began running a 30-second ad Monday that was in effect her closing campaign statement.
"It's the toughest job in the world," she told viewers, who then saw images of some of recent American history's most critical moments and nemeses — the stock market crash, Pearl Harbor, bin Laden, Hurricane Katrina and others.
"You need to be ready for anything," she said, "especially now, with two wars, oil prices skyrocketing and an economy in crisis. Harry Truman said it best: If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Who do you think has what it takes?"
The effort recalled her successful invocation of national security just ahead of the Texas and Ohio primaries in her 3 a.m. phone call spot, and by day's end, Obama was running an ad in response.
"Who has what it takes to really bring change? To finally take on the special interests — not take their money," says the announcer. At the end, Obama says, "We are one people. All of us pledging allegiance to the Stars and Stripes. All of us defending the United States of America."
The candidates also both taped appearances on the WWE Raw Monday night wrestling show.
Joking that she should be called "Hill-Rod," Clinton explained: "I've been knocked down, but I've always gotten back up. And I know how to take a hit for the American people.
"And if things get a little tough," she said, "I may even have to deliver the `people's elbow.'"
In his WWE message, Obama also invoked the words of actor and wrestler The Rock.
"To the special interests who've been setting the agenda in Washington for too long and to all the forces of division and distraction that have stopped us from making progress for the American people, I've got one question: Do you smell what Barack is cooking?" he said with a grin.
Clinton began her campaign day in Scranton, home turf of sorts for her, since her grandfather worked in a local lace mill and her father was born there.
"One day to victory, that's what the challenge is," the New York senator told an enthusiastic crowd. "We really need to bear down."
Obama, also in Scranton, ate waffles at a local diner — perhaps some symbolism to remind voters of his claims that Clinton often changes positions on key issues, such as the Iraq war.
Obama also taped a late-night appearance on the "Daily Show," which is popular with the young voters he's counting on for a big turnout, and an interview for food personality Rachael Ray's syndicated program.
Obama started his day with a visit to the Glider Diner in Scranton. He also hosted a forum for about 45 local supporters in Blue Bell, in suburban Philadelphia.
He was asked about health care and the economy — and Clinton never came up.
"The economy is like an ocean liner," Obama said. "If you steer it in the right direction," then over the course of decades the nation can "avoid the big iceberg."
At a town hall Monday night in McKeesport, a steel-town suburb of Pittsburgh, a supporter told Obama that he was worried that persistent rumors about Obama being a Muslim were hurting him.
Obama said that rumors about his religion or patriotism were "the usual political dirty tricks."
He spoke of his grandfather being a World War II veteran and said that when he presides in the Senate he says the Pledge of Allegiance with "my hand over my heart."
"It frustrates me" because critics "don't ask the same questions about some of the other candidates," Obama said.
"I am a Christian," he added. But he said that his religion shouldn't be the issue.
"They're feeding on anti-Muslim sentiment and that's also wrong because we don't have a religious test in this country," Obama said.
ON THE WEB
Watch the Clinton "Kitchen" ad.
See Obama's response ad.
Read the McClatchy-MSNBC-Pittsburgh Post-Gazette poll of Pennsylvania voters, released Sunday.
Read the Quinnipiac Pennsylvania poll, released Monday.
McClatchy Newspapers 2008