Sweet column: Clinton, Obama, target McCain.

SHARE Sweet column: Clinton, Obama, target McCain.

RICHMOND, Va. — Now that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, rivals Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) are recalibrating their campaigns to stress electability, as each argues they are better prepared to beat him in November.

With Clinton and Obama the star headliners, the Democratic Party of Virginia drew its largest crowd ever — more than 5,000 people — at the annual Jefferson Jackson dinner here coming before Tuesday’s primaries in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

McCain was targeted by both Democrats. “Somewhere along the line, the wheels came off the Straight Talk Express,” said Obama, deriding McCain’s signature slogan. Often downplaying polls, Obama used them to bolster his case. “There is a reason why the last six polls in a row have shown that I’m the strongest candidate against John McCain. It’s because we’ve done better with independents in almost every single contest we’ve had.”

Obama swept Saturday’s votes in three states and one U.S. territory. He won caucuses held in Nebraska (68 percent to 32 percent for Clinton), Washington state (68 percent to Clinton’s 31 percent), the Virgin Islands (winning nearly 90 percent of the votes) and Louisiana (capturing 55 percent to 38 percent, with 83 percent of precincts counted). Maine votes today.

But the Obama victories only advance the fight for the Democratic nomination to the primary and caucus contests ahead–as well as the ongoing battle for “superdelegates” as McCain becomes a bigger factor.

McCain is “more of the same,” Clinton told the crowd. And without mentioning Obama’s name, she referred to Obama’s attempt to position her as no different than President Bush. “Now I understand there are some people,” she said, who “can’t tell the difference between me and George Bush. I don’t think anyone here is confusing me with George Bush.”

If the nominee, Clinton said she will not be “knocked out of the ring. … I am ready to go toe to toe with Sen. McCain whenever and wherever he desires.”

One year ago, on Feb. 10, 2007, Obama officially launched his presidential campaign outside the Old State Capitol in Springfield, and the night before that Virginia Gov. Tom Kaine became the second governor (after Gov. Blagojevich) to endorse him.

Kaine gave Obama a fiery introduction and when he announced the election results, the crowd broke out into a roar that eclipsed the warm reception given to Clinton.

Obama took note of the anniversary. “At the time, there weren’t too many who imagined we’d be standing where we are today,” he said.

The year has shown there is not much of a divide between Obama and Clinton on most issues. The last 12 months have introduced Michelle Obama to the nation as a formidable campaigner for her husband, just as the Clinton camp has seen the emergence of Chelsea Clinton as a forceful advocate for her mother.

Obama has built a Herculean campaign organization, part machine Obama is hungry for establishment endorsements and part movement.

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