Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama campaigned down to the wire in the states of Indiana and North Carolina, both of which hold Democratic presidential primaries Tuesday. Polls show Clinton has a slight edge in Indiana and Obama has a solid lead in North Carolina. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Indianapolis, Indiana, the two rivals are fiercely competing for the voters who are traditional Democrats who sometimes vote Republican.
At an outdoor setting near downtown Indianapolis Monday night, Senator Barack Obama took off his suit jacket and spoke to some 20,000 people of his concern that life is getting harder for the average working-class citizen.
"The American dream is slipping away from people, people who are working hard, people who are living by the rules, people who care for each other," he said.
Obama says average Americans are struggling with an economic downturn, a home mortgage crisis and rising prices for fuel. He blames much of the problem on the Bush administration and takes special aim at the Iraq War, which he says was a mistake that is costing the country billions of dollars that are badly needed here at home. After his outdoor rally, Obama went to a nearby factory to greet workers coming in for the night shift.
Senator Clinton has been appealing to the same working-class voters, who traditionally have voted Democrat, but who supported Republican Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.
In previous contests, in Ohio and Pennsylvania, in particular, analysts say her appeal to these so-called "Reagan Democrats" helped her win. Her campaign strategists say winning these same voters will be the key to winning the election in November.
In the past week or so here in Indiana and in North Carolina, Clinton has been touting the idea of suspending the federal tax on gasoline to give working families a break from record high fuel prices.
"I want the oil companies to pay the gas tax, this summer, out of their record profits, because they need to be part of the solution instead of the problem," she said.
Senator John McCain, who has secured the Republican presidential nomination, has made a similar proposal, but Senator Obama rejects the idea as a gimmick that would provide no real benefit. He notes that the amount saved for the average person would be about 30 cents a day, for a total of only $28 over the three-month period. He also chides Clinton for what he calls pandering to voters with a proposal that not a single economist or energy expert endorses. Clinton has fired back, telling voters that Obama's response shows he has little concern for the challenges facing average Americans.
Voter turnout here in Indiana is expected to be heavy and Republicans are expected to play a role here, as well. Because the nominee in their party is already set, many of them plan to cross over and vote in the Democratic contest.
Some may be responding to a campaign by national radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh who has urged listeners to support Clinton, to prolong the Democratic race. But many Republicans say they are genuinely concerned about the economy and the war in Iraq and are looking for a change. In response, both the Clinton and Obama campaigns have spent time and money in some areas of the state that are heavily Republican, hoping to win some of the cross-over votes.