Last minutes in NV, SC

Last-minute campaigning in Nevada and South Carolina
By Jeff Zeleny and Michael Luo
Published: January 18, 2008

LAS VEGAS: On the eve of the Nevada caucuses, Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton were following similar paths across the state, making last-minute appeals Friday to voters in Las Vegas, Reno and Elko. John Edwards, who polls show is in a distant third place, held a morning rally before leaving Nevada to focus on future contests.

Nevada is the third stop in the Democratic presidential nominating fight. Obama and Clinton have been locked in a close contest, their strategists say, with voter turnout remaining an open question.

As the candidates made their final pitches to voters, their organizations geared up in a state that has not previously had a starring role in the early stages of the presidential nomination process. Presidential campaigns have been plotting for nearly a year how best to drive vast numbers of Nevadans to the more than 500 caucus sites statewide by 11:30 a.m. local time on Saturday, according to The Associated Press.

In the finals hours of the campaign here, the candidates increased the volume of their rhetoric. At a rally in Las Vegas on Thursday evening, Obama mocked his rivals for how they answered a question during a debate on Tuesday.

"Folks, they don't tell you what they mean," Obama said.

Although the Republicans were focusing on South Carolina, one of the candidates, former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, was also in Nevada. He flew from Las Vegas to Elko, in the northern part of the state, for an early-morning rally attended by about 250 people.

A new poll by The Las Vegas Review-Journal showed him with a commanding lead over Senator John McCain of Arizona in Nevada's Republican caucuses, which have essentially been uncontested by the other major candidates.

Romney continued his mantra about bringing change to Washington but also made sure to dwell some on illegal immigration, an important issue in the state, and his own family values.

He is not broadcasting televisions commercials in Nevada but went on the air earlier this month with radio commercials that spotlight his opposition to same-sex marriage and his hard-line stance on illegal immigration.

Romney was to fly Friday afternoon from Reno to Burbank, California, to tape "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno.

"It occurred to us the best way to be in South Carolina and Nevada at the same time was to be on 'The Tonight Show,' " said Eric Fehrnstrom, the campaign's traveling press secretary. "Plus, it worked for Mike Huckabee: He won Iowa."

Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, of course famously left Iowa on the eve of the caucuses there to appear on "The Tonight Show."

McCain spent Friday touring through South Carolina, pushing his national security credentials and a proposal that would improve health care for the state's many veterans.

Primaries in South Carolina are on Saturday for Republicans and a week later for Democrats.

At a stop in Florence, South Carolina, McCain held aloft a copy of USA Today, which carried a front page headline saying "75% of Areas in Baghdad Secure."

"My friends, I want to remind you, that was at great cost," McCain said. "If we had done what the Democrats wanted to do six months ago and withdrawn from Iraq, Al Qaeda would be telling the world that they had defeated the United States of America.

"And my friends, we are succeeding. I also would remind you it's still only 75 percent. It's not 100 percent. And so if you forget everything I mention to you this morning, please remember this: Al Qaeda's on the run, but not defeated."

Later, at a campaign stop in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, McCain said that he would work with President George W. Bush and the Congress to improve the economy.

"My friends, what we need to do to start with before we go any further is stop the out-of-control spending," he said.

"I still believe that the fundamental underpinnings of our economy are good and strong," he said, adding that he would like to cut corporate taxes and make Bush's tax cuts permanent.

In Bluffton, South Carolina, Huckabee said that his Southern roots helped him grasp the problems of South Carolina voters.

"We really want to win here," Huckabee said, according to The Associated Press, "in part because as governor of a state of similar circumstances, I think I have a better understanding than anybody else running for president what unique challenges we face - not just in Southern states, but especially in Southern states."

After winning the Iowa caucuses with the support of evangelical Christians, he is facing competition for their votes from Fred Thompson, the former senator from Tennessee, even though many in that group are supporting Huckabee.

Michael Luo reported from Elko, Nevada. Michael Cooper contributed reporting from South Carolina.

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