Politics & Government

Obama to take campaign to GOP — at its convention site

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — As Sen. Hillary Clinton scrambled for votes Saturday on the eve of Puerto Rico's Democratic presidential primary, Sen. Barack Obama donned the mantle of party nominee, announcing that he will hold a victory celebration Tuesday night at the site of the Republican Party's nominating convention.

Instead of celebrating expected victories in Tuesday's Montana and South Dakota primaries in those states, the Obama campaign decided to hold a victory rally at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., sending a not-too-subtle message to presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain.

"Minnesota will play a pivotal role in the general election and we felt it's important to begin to lay out the argument for why Barack Obama is the better choice," said Jen Psaki, an Obama campaign spokeswoman. "Tuesday night is significant because it marks the end of the primary contests."

Campaigning in Rapid City Saturday, Obama, sounded more like a general election candidate than someone trying to win a primary, attacking President Bush's record and painting McCain as a continuation of Bush on the war in Iraq.

Obama mentioned Clinton only briefly, calling her "an outstanding public servant."

While Obama spent most of the weekend in South Dakota, Clinton focused on Puerto Rico. She is expected to win easily in this U.S. territory where residents can vote in the primary but not in the general election.

If Clinton wins be a big margin, she'll use it to bolster her argument that she leads Obama in the popular vote if the totals from the Florida and Michigan primaries are included.

The Democratic National Committee doesn't count those totals because it punished Florida and Michigan after the two states ignored party rules and moved up the dates of their primaries.

The party's rules committee met in Washington Saturday to decide how delegates from the two states would count at the Democratic convention in August.

Clinton started her day speaking to health care providers at a medical center in San Juan. There, she pledged to end Medicare and Medicaid funding disparities between Puerto Rico and the United States.

"I'm the only candidate committed to bringing equal treatment to payment rates under Medicare," she said to applause. "I'm the only candidate left with a truly universal health care plan, a plan that will cover the 500,000 Puerto Ricans who do not have coverage today."

Afterwards, Clinton went about campaigning Puerto Rico-style: atop a flatbed truck in a festive caravan that snaked through San Juan-area neighborhoods and included a rolling boom box, a monster truck with 16 massive stereo speakers that repeatedly blared a Clinton campaign song to a Caribbean beat.

Intermittent showers made for a slightly soggy caravan, but Clinton remained in high spirits, waving to onlookers as campaign volunteers in other vehicles in the caravan passed out buttons and threw candy at the crowd.

"I'm so privileged to represent one million Puerto Ricans in New York," Clinton said at the medical center. "And I have enjoyed, many times, marching in the Puerto Rican Day Parade. Campaigning in Puerto Rico is like one long Puerto Rican Day Parade."

Douglas reported from San Juan; Talev from Rapid City, S.D.

e-mail wdouglas(at)mcclatchydc.com., mtalev@mcclatchydc.com