Candidates full steam ahead for weekend

Caucuses set for this weekend
February 8, 2008 4:25:46 PM PST
Hillary Rodham Clinton told roaring partisans she's the candidate of "dreams and practicality," Barack Obama packed in a Nebraska crowd of more than 10,000, and Mike Huckabee campaigned in Kansas like he never heard the Republican race is supposed to be over. So goes the effort to win four Democratic and three Republican presidential nomination contests this weekend - a round getting less than the full treatment by the remaining hopefuls, but plenty of attention still.

Suspense drained from the Republican side when Mitt Romney suspended his campaign Thursday. That left John McCain the prohibitive favorite, Huckabee the long-shot and Ron Paul even more of an asterisk.

Nonetheless, voters in Washington state, Kansas and Louisiana take part in GOP contests Saturday that, absent an improbable insurgency against the one-time insurgent McCain, have become his virtual coronation. President Bush nudged conservatives Friday to unite behind the presumed nominee.

There was plenty of drama for Obama and Clinton, competing for 161 delegates Saturday in Washington state, Louisiana, Nebraska and the Virgin Islands, followed by Maine caucuses with 24 delegates on Sunday.

Obama won the last-minute endorsement Friday of Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, only the second female governor of the state. Both candidates had courted her - Obama speaking with her four times.

"He is leading us toward a positive feeling of hope in our country and I love seeing that happen," she said. Washington's senators, both women, back Clinton.

In strongly Republican and sparsely populated Nebraska, Obama spoke to the huge crowd at an Omaha arena Thursday, exhorting: "You're here because you don't want to just be against something. You want to be for something.

Chris Slaughter, 20, heard the speech and said: "He's a once-in-a-generation candidate."

Obama was the only candidate campaigning in all four states. Clinton told a spirited rally of 5,000 supporters at a Seattle cruise ship terminal Thursday night that she's "a fighter and a doer and a champion for the American people." She also planned to campaign in Maine.

C linton and Obama both have an eye on the round that follows - the trio of races Tuesday in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia - and the New York senator in particular was gearing her campaign toward the high stakes primaries in Ohio and Texas on March 4.

Obama, an Illinois senator, has proved a strong performer in the complex logistics of caucuses and a candidate flush with money, two advantages going into the weekend. Clinton enjoyed several notable endorsements in Washington and Maine, and a strong organization.

Huckabee campaigned in Kansas even as GOP stalwarts said it was time to close ranks and questions grew about how long the former Arkansas governor would stay in the hunt.

"An election is about a choice," he said in Olathe on Friday, "not a coronation."