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DateLine Sunday, 25 May 2008

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Clinton, Obama converge on Florida

The two Democratic presidential candidates are campaigning Wednesday in Florida, but they are in pursuit of different goals.

Fresh from her win Tuesday in the Kentucky primary, Sen. Hillary Clinton will be pushing for the Democratic National Committee to seat Florida's delegates at the national convention.

Sen. Barack Obama, meanwhile, is keeping his eye on November as he campaigns in the Southern state for the first time this year, as Florida again is expected to play a critical role as a swing state in the general election.

Obama directed his fire at Sen. John McCain, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, during a campaign stop in Tampa.

"He's running for four more years of George Bush," Obama said of McCain. "He's running for a third Bush term; that is what he's running for."

Obama also challenged McCain's position on lobbyists.

"John McCain offered a bill that said he would ban a candidate from paying registered lobbyists, and he did this because he said that having lobbyists on your campaign was a conflict of interest. This is what he said 10 years ago," Obama said.

"Well, I'll tell you that John McCain then would be pretty disappointed with John McCain now, because he hired some of the biggest lobbyists in Washington to run this campaign."

McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds lashed out at Obama on Wednesday.

"Sen. Obama made some pretty harsh attacks today on John McCain ... but a quick look at his campaign shows he's completely hypocritical on this issue," he said. "In Obama's world, a lobbyist can't contribute to the campaign, but they can raise money and advise the candidate on policy issues. It's absurd."

McCain's national finance co-chairman stepped down last Sunday, the fifth adviser in a little more than a week to leave the Republican's campaign over questions about lobbying or past ties to lobbyists. Former Rep. Thomas G. Loeffler of Texas was a major fundraiser for McCain.

Obama strengthened his position as the favorite in the race for the Democratic nomination Tuesday when he captured a majority of the pledged delegates after winning the Oregon primary and additional delegates in Kentucky.

With 1,656 pledged delegates, Obama has more than half of the 3,253 total pledged delegates, those allocated according to the results of primaries and caucuses.

However, Obama does not have enough delegates to secure the nomination outright. He has 1,962 delegates, including superdelegates, the elected and party officials -- short of the 2,026 needed to secure the nomination, according to CNN estimates.

Clinton has 1,777 delegates.

While Obama was looking ahead to the fall, Clinton was fighting hard to keep her candidacy alive.

Florida was stripped of delegates because its January 29 primary was held too early and in violation of party rules.

The Democratic National Committee will decide May 31 whether the Florida delegates -- as well as those from Michigan -- will be allowed to vote at the convention. Michigan also lost its delegates for scheduling its primary too early -- on January 15 -- in violation of party rules.

"The decision our party faces is not just about the fate of these votes or the outcome of these primaries," Clinton said Wednesday in Boca Raton.

"It's whether we will uphold our most fundamental values as Democrats and Americans. It's whether we will move forward united and take back the White House this November. That has to be the prize we have to keep in mind."

Clinton said Florida's Democratic voters were being punished for something they did not do, noting that the Republican-controlled Legislature moved up the state's primary date to late January.

"They did nothing wrong, and they should not be punished for doing their civic duty," Clinton said of those who voted in the primary.

The senator from New York won the Florida contest and would receive a majority of the state's 211 delegates if the primary results were counted. Her campaign argues that she is leading Obama in the popular vote if the results from Florida and Michigan are included.

Clinton maintains that the Florida and Michigan delegations should be seated out of fairness to voters in those states.

"I'm going to keep standing up for the voters of Florida and Michigan," Clinton told supporters Tuesday in Louisville, Kentucky.

"Democrats in those two states cast 2.3 million votes, and they deserve to have those votes counted. And that's why I'm going to keep making our case until we have a nominee, whoever she may be."

But Obama supporters argue that seating Florida's delegation based on the January primary would be unfair. The Democratic candidates agreed not to campaign in the state because its primary violated party rules, and Obama wasn't even on the ballot in Michigan

-CNN

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