DE PERE, Wis. — Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton carried their rivalry Monday across this ice-crusted state, where notoriously hard-to-predict Democratic voters are primed to give one of them a significant boost on Tuesday.
The candidates fought over who may have stolen whose speech lines, over debates and over economic policies, but it remained unclear which of them will wind up with the victory that each so badly wants.
Polls suggest that the race is close. Clinton made last-minute adjustments in her Monday schedule so she'd spend all day campaigning here, instead of leaving early as originally planned. Obama's wife, Michelle, stumped from Milwaukee to the Minnesota border, while her husband headed for a late-evening rally in Beloit.
Clinton and Obama both presented themselves as populists in the tradition of former candidate John Edwards, whose support — and whose voters — both covet.
At St. Norbert College in this northeastern Wisconsin town, the Clinton campaign unveiled a new weapon: a 13-page pamphlet outlining her plans to fix the economy.
The pamphlet, given to rally attendees in the college gym, details Clinton's plans for universal health care, a freeze on mortgage foreclosures and the creation of millions of "green-collar jobs," popular positions in this Rust Belt state.
Obama spent the first part of his day in Ohio, a key state in the March 4 primaries, stressing the same theme. His backers passed out copies of his 46-page economic plan, first released last week, and he told a Youngstown State University audience that "people are desperate out there. I meet them every day, see them here in town."
He said that if he were president, he'd try to amend the North American Free Trade Agreement and adjust U. S. trade policy with China in ways that strengthened the other nations' labor, environmental and safety standards. He also pledged to prod U.S. companies to keep jobs from going abroad.
Also vying here Tuesday are Republicans John McCain and Mike Huckabee. Though McCain is far ahead of the former Arkansas governor nationally, both campaigned here Monday and McCain will rally his forces in suburban Milwaukee Tuesday morning.
McCain's biggest challenge is avoiding embarrassment: Polls show Huckabee within striking distance here, though even if he were to win, McCain would retain a huge lead in delegates nationally.
Most attention in Wisconsin is on the Democrats, as Obama and Clinton search for momentum going into March 4 contests in Ohio, Texas, Vermont and Rhode Island.
Obama spent part of Monday defending himself against charges that, in a Saturday night speech in Milwaukee, his words were almost identical to those of Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick in 2006.
At a news conference, he said that while "I'm sure I should have" given Patrick credit, Obama added: "I've written two books, wrote most of my speeches. Deval and I do trade ideas all the time. He's occasionally used lines of mine, and I, at a Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Wisconsin, used words of his."
Obama then tried to drag Clinton into this fray, saying he's noticed that she "on occasion had used words of mine as well. ...When Senator Clinton says it's time to `turn the page' in one of her stump speeches or that she's `fired up' and `ready to go,' I don't think that anybody suggests that somehow she's not focused on the issues ..."
Wisconsin voters seemed largely oblivious to the fracas. At downtown Milwaukee's Pabst Theater, as they waited to hear Obama's wife, Michelle, a lot of people were still making up their minds.
George Warner, a retiree, and his wife, Carol, a social worker, are torn. "In the (Bill) Clinton years, we were happy. Everybody seemed to have money," said Carol Warner. "But Obama has a lot of good ideas, and he's very frank."
Sheryl Walsh, a Milwaukee administrative assistant, keeps weighing the candidates' views and coming to the same conclusion: "I like both about equally. Nothing stands out."
But some voters didn't like one thing: sniping between the candidates. The one who seems to do it most will not get their votes.
"The negative stuff just doesn't do it. I liked Hillary Clinton until she started what the media calls the smugness and self-righteousness," said Mary Ann Beaumont, a Shorewood accountant.
An Obama victory would continue the winning streak he started two weeks ago. Since Super Tuesday, on Feb. 5, he's swept all eight primaries and caucuses, and, in the media at least, there's a hint of a bandwagon beginning to roll.
Clinton, too, sees opportunity here. This state has demographics that the New York senator likes: lots of working-class people earning less than $50,000 and large blocs of white women.
She didn't mention Obama by name in De Pere, but when someone in the audience asked about the pamphlet, the senator said: "I think there is a difference between speeches and solutions. When I put out something like this, I really want you to hold me accountable."
Clinton's pamphlet features a populist pitch that seems aimed squarely at the working-class voters she badly needs here, in Ohio and eventually in Pennsylvania, which votes on April 22.
"Over the past five years, big corporations and special interests have been given a free pass to profit, often at the expense of the American worker," it reads. "As president, Hillary will make it a priority to scale back special benefits and subsidies to these corporations and put those resources to work for our economy again."
Clinton also blasted Obama for ducking her. She challenged him to debate here, and when Obama wouldn't agree, she launched a statewide 30-second spot saying, "He's hiding behind false attack ads."
Obama is fighting back with an ad noting that "after 18 debates, with two more coming, Hillary says Barack Obama is ducking debates? It's the same old politics, of phony charges and false attacks."
ON THE WEB
Read more about Wisconsin.