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Democrats Warm Up Wisconsin for Next Contest

LIANE HANSEN, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are waging a bitter battle in Wisconsin on this weekend before election day. Wisconsin voters go to the polls Tuesday. Obama hopes to extend his winning streak of eight straight primaries and caucuses since Super Tuesday. Clinton hopes to put the brakes on Obama's momentum. It's her last chance before big contests in Texas and Ohio on March 4th.

Both candidates were in Milwaukee for a Democratic Party dinner last night, and NPR's Scott Horsley was there.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Hillary Clinton's been running TV ads in Wisconsin complaining that Barack Obama won't debate her in the state. It wasn't exactly a debate last night, but in back-to-back speeches to a crowd of party activists. Clinton and Obama did outline sharply different visions of what the job of president requires.

Clinton talked about a hairdresser she'd met earlier in the day at a town hall meeting in Kenosha. The woman was worried about losing her home to foreclosure because her adjustable mortgage payments had nearly doubled, even as her own business was on the decline.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York, Presidential Candidate): I am reminded every single day why I do this. It's not about speeches for me, it's not about the bright lights and the cameras. It is about the changes we can make that actually deliver results in people's lives.

HORSLEY: Both Clinton and Obama had been reaching out to the large number of working class voters in Wisconsin where nearly four in ten Democrats say the economy is their biggest concern. Clinton promised that American workers would have a champion in Washington if she's the party's nominee.

Sen. CLINTON: Here in Milwaukee and in cities across America, janitors are cleaning up, waitresses are pouring coffee, police officers are standing guard, and they need a president who stands up for them.

HORSLEY: Both Clinton and Obama delivered lengthy talks on the economy this past week, outlining plans to help working families pay for housing, health care and a college education.

Obama said last night while they differ in some areas, they have a lot of ideas in common.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois, Presidential Candidate): Let's be clear, the problem we have is not the lack of good ideas. It's not the lack of good ideas. It's that Washington is the place where good ideas go to die.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORSLEY: Obama blamed that on lobbyists and on politicians who he says spend more time scoring political points then bridging their differences.

Sen. OBAMA: All too often it ends up being business as usual where we put forward all kinds of detailed plans and they get filed in drawers somewhere and the dust starts accumulating. Because nobody can inspire the country and build a working majority to actually deliver on the promises.

HORSLEY: Clinton countered that she knows better than anyone how hard it would be to carry out the Democrats' proposals. She peppered her speech with the phrase "get real," and said she has the necessary toughness to bring about real change in both foreign and domestic policy.

Sen. CLINTON: It's going to take strength and experience, something that goes along with the job. Change is going to happen. The question is are we going to get the right kind of change? Because what I'm interested is not just change for the sake of change, but progress.

HORSLEY: Clinton said it would take more than just speeches to achieve that. But Obama got the last word, and he defended the power of words to get Americans excited about what works in government.

Sen. OBAMA: Don't tell me words don't matter. I have a dream, just words? We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, just words? We have nothing to fear but fear itself, just words? Just speeches?

HORSLEY: Polls show Obama and Clinton in a close race in Wisconsin, and undecided voters could tip the balance. Senator Russ Feingold said last night he's grateful to the candidates for keeping it close so his home state of Wisconsin really matters.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Milwaukee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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United States & World Weekend Edition Sunday
Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.