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Clinton Reaches
Out to Middle-class Voters

Clinton Reaches
Out to Middle-class Voters

Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday tried to shore up her appeal to middle-class voters, some of whom appear to be leaning toward new Democratic presidential front-runner Barack Obama, by proposing restrictions on big corporations she said would save ordinary Americans $55 billion.

The former first lady, widely considered the Democratic front-runner just a few weeks ago, has now lost eight straight contests with her defeats this weeks in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.

As she turned her attention to must-win March 4 races in Texas and Ohio, she focused on the economy, a topic she hoped would help her in states struggling with lagging industry and a nationwide mortgage crisis.

Clinton, who has been criticized for taking corporate special interest contributions, proposed new restrictions Thursday on oil, insurance, credit card, student loan and Wall Street investment companies. ''For seven long years, we've had a government of, by, and for the special interests, and we've had enough,'' the New York senator told an audience at an Ohio General Motors plant. ''It's time to level the playing field against the special interests and deliver 21st century solutions to rebuild the middle class.''

Her rival, Barack Obama, announced Wednesday that as president he would spend $210 billion to create jobs in construction and environmental industries. He painted Clinton and the presumed Republican nominee John McCain as Washington insiders whose votes on the Iraq war have had stark economic consequences.

A big win in Ohio would be a major boost for Clinton, who is struggling in her historic race with Obama and hopes to become the first female U.S. president. Obama is seeking to be the first black American president.

A poll released Thursday shows Clinton leading Obama in Ohio 55% to 34%, with an almost 2-to-1 lead in the state among white voters, and almost as big an advantage with women and voters age 45 and older. In Pennsylvania, which holds its contest April 22, Clinton polled 52% to Obama's 36%.

The Quinnipiac University polls in both states were conducted February 6-12 and have a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1%.

Both Ohio and Pennsylvania are industrial states that have been battered by a lagging economy, and voters there might be receptive to Clinton's economic push.

On the Republican side, McCain sought to convince conservatives that the party must unite if it hopes to match the enthusiasm generated by the two Democrats. Democrats have turned out to vote in significantly higher numbers than Republicans in recent races.

Obama's wins Tuesday in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., give him the edge in the delegate count but hardly assure him of the nomination. A total of 2,025 delegates are needed to clinch the Democratic nomination, and Obama now leads Clinton by just 55 delegates. He has 1,275 to her 1,220.

But those wins, on top of five over the weekend, give him an undeniable advantage. He has a good opportunity to extend his streak with weekend primaries in Wisconsin and Hawaii, his native state, as Americans focus on how his campaign is soaring and Clinton's is flagging.

But by the time Ohio and Texas vote -- if she does not win Wisconsin or Hawaii -- four weeks would have passed without a victory, and Obama's momentum could be hard to overcome.

Obama has pulled ahead in fund-raising, leaving Clinton to lend money to her own campaign to try to stay close. Her campaign advisers said Wednesday that her fundraising was rebounding at a rate of $1 million a day online.

The outcome of the contests last Tuesday indicated that Obama is tapping into Clinton's political base, with stronger support from the elderly, the middle class, and white voters _ including women.

Obama got another boost Thursday when former Rhode Island Republican senator Lincoln Chafee endorsed him as the best presidential candidate to restore the nation's credibility. Rhode Island also holds its Democratic and Republican primaries on March 4.

McCain appealed to Republican House members on Wednesday for help rallying conservatives, who so far have been lukewarm at best in their support of the Arizona senator. He said they had pledged to work with him.

McCain is considered a maverick who has broken with some conservative Republican stances on immigration, gay rights, and campaign finance reform. The veteran senator's victories Tuesday in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., allowed him to save face after embarrassing losses to rival Mike Huckabee last weekend. McCain has, however, been a staunch supporter of the Iraq War and recently praised former Bush adviser Karl Rove.

McCain leads the overall race for the nomination with 843 delegates, to 242 for Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor and ordained Baptist minister who is a favorite among Christian conservatives.

It takes 1,191 delegates to clinch the Republican nomination at the party's convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, and McCain appears to be on track to reach the target by late April. (AP)

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Matthew Van Atta