CHRISTINA ALMEIDA Associated Press Writer GREAT FALLS
Former President Bill Clinton returned to Montana on Sunday, campaigning across the state as he looked to rally his wife's supporters and persuade undecided voters just days before the primary. Clinton stopped in Stevensville and Anaconda, before heading to Great Falls which could be a key area for Hillary Rodham Clinton in Tuesday's primary. At stake are 16 delegates to the Democratic National Convention. The past few months, Hillary Clinton has visited twice, while Obama has made three trips. Chelsea Clinton spent two days in Billings last week, while Michelle Obama planned a visit to Billings and Kalispell today. A recent poll shows Barack Obama with a 17-point lead over Hillary Clinton in the state, with 13 percent of those surveyed saying they are still undecided. In Great Falls, Bill Clinton addressed a crowd of some 600 people at a local gymnasium. At the top of his speech, he talked briefly about his wife's sizable victory in Sunday's Puerto Rico primary. "Since we have had presidential contests dominated by primaries, this is the closest race ever," the former president said. "I want to thank all of you for giving us a fair chance to make our case." Clinton used the opportunity to tout his wife's primary wins and took a swipe at the caucus process, which he said helped Obama build his delegate lead. Currently, Obama is about 50 delegates shy of clinching the nomination. "We, Democrats, tend to like primaries because they are more democratic," Clinton said. During his speech, Clinton outlined his wife's plan to boost the economy, improve health care and fix the nation's educational system. He emphasized his wife's commitment to a balanced federal budget and to helping the nation's veterans the latter drawing big applause from the crowd in Great Falls, home to Malmstrom Air Force Base. "You will not have that generation of veterans living in cardboard boxes under a bridge somewhere. She will take care of them," Clinton said to cheers. "This is a very, very big deal. We must never let this happen again." The trip marked Clinton's sixth since the campaign began. The visit came two days after Obama drew a crowd of about 2,000 in Great Falls. In one of the state's bigger counties, Great Falls could be key for both candidates as they look to win Montana on Tuesday. While Clinton could hold an advantage in rural areas and Butte, with its strong union past, Obama will likely draw support from college towns like Missoula and Bozeman, where his campaign has been active with voter registration and his appeal is high among university Students. "My feeling from just being on the street and talking to people is that he is very popular here," said Missoula City Councilman Jason Weiner, an Obama supporter. "He's certainly caught on with the young people." The Clinton campaign, however, downplayed any perceived advantages, saying voters in cities as different as Havre and Missoula all care about the same thing. "I think you to be very careful about pigeonholing voters," said Clinton spokesman Matt McKenna. "Montanans care about the same thing people care about in Pennsylvania, which is ending the war and fixing the economy and health care for every American." Meanwhile, Montana has reveled in the attention from both campaigns with the understanding that come November the state and its three electoral college votes may not be contested. The last Democrat to win Montana in the general election was Bill Clinton in 1992, when Ross Perot helped dilute the Republican vote. ___ Associated Press Writer Matt Gouras in Helena contributed to this report.