LIZ SIDOTI Associated Press Writer GREENVILLE, N.C.
Resolute rivals Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama straddled North Carolina and Indiana today on the eve of a pair of crucial primaries in the unceasing contest for the Democratic presidential nomination. The two darted back to North Carolina for some last-minute campaigning, with polls showing Clinton chipping away at Obama's advantage here. It was a brief diversion from the more competitive Indiana, where both planned to return by nightfall. "In the end of the day, you don't hire a president to make speeches, you hire a president to solve problems," Clinton told a couple hundred people in a gymnasium at Pitt Community College, pressing her claim of experience. She also kept up her populist pitch and call for a summertime suspension of the federal gas tax to help people facing rising fuel prices. "Let's listen to what the people are telling us," Clinton said, "because if we listen, we will hear this incredible cry." Elsewhere, Obama campaigned among white, blue-collar workers in Evansville, Ind., before flying to North Carolina. The Democratic front-runner noted that the polls are very tight and the day's schedule had him "bouncing back and forth" between the two states. "We're working as hard as we can and I desperately want every single vote here, in North Carolina and in Indiana," the Illinois senator said during an appearance at a construction site. Later at a labor hall, Obama said he would make good on his campaign pledges. "I'm going to be a partner with you," he said. "I'm going to be following through. But I need your help." In both states, Obama was trying to recover from a difficult period and put Clinton away after a difficult 16-month fight that has split the party. The former first lady, meanwhile, hoped to hang in the race with a win in one, maybe two states. Obama is ahead in the hunt for convention delegates 1,743.5 to 1,607.5, according to an Associated Press count today but Clinton senses an opening after a win in Pennsylvania last month. Still, the delegate math works in Obama's favor, and it will be difficult For Clinton to overtake him. Earlier, in interviews on most major cable and network programs, Obama and Clinton both expressed confidence in their chances of winning the Tuesday contests but would not predict that voting this week would be decisive enough to end the primary fight. On NBC's "Today" show, Obama predicted that after the final contests June 3 in Montana and South Dakota, "We will be in a position to make a decision who the Democratic nominee is going to be," he said. "I will be the Democratic nominee." Clinton refused to predict Tuesday's results, but said her campaign has made up some ground after falling behind. "I think we've closed the gap," she said on CNN's "American Morning." Much of the exchange Monday centered on proposals Clinton has embraced to give drivers some relief from soaring gas prices. Clinton pushed her plan for a summer suspension of the gasoline tax, which she would pay for with a windfall profit tax on oil companies. Obama called that plan a gimmick, and many economists expressed skepticism. In a CBS News/New York Times poll released Sunday, 49 percent of voters said they thought lifting the gas tax for the summer was a bad idea. Only 45 percent thought it was a good idea. "I think a lot of people don't understand my plan," Clinton responded on CBS' "The Early Show." ''I want to the oil companies to pay that $8 billion this summer instead of having the money come out of the pockets of consumers and drivers." ____ Associated Press Writer Tom Raum in Evansville, Ind., contributed to this report.