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Candidates for president talk politics

Obama seeks union's help while Clinton promotes vets issues

CHICAGO - How does Sen. Barack Obama spend a day off in his hometown? By urging hundreds of union activists to back his presidential bid in the final Democratic primaries.

That meant criticizing Republican presidential candidate John McCain, whom Obama accused of failing to offer "any meaningful change from the policies of George W. Bush."

"This is the most anti-labor administration in our memory," Obama told activists from the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which has endorsed him. "You and I share a vision for our country. We'll have a National Labor Relations Board that actually believes in unions."

The Chicago resident, who had been scheduled to take a day off from campaigning, avoided mentioning his Democratic rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, by name. While contending that "we can be a party that exploits the divisions that exist in our country for pure political gain," he said he wouldn't follow that path.

The McCain campaign responded that Obama doesn't understand the economy and, in terms of causing meaningful change, "his plan to raise taxes during an economic downturn is absolutely the wrong way to do it."

Campaigning in North Carolina, a state with strong military ties, Clinton emphasized her plans to improve life for veterans and said she wants to bring troops home from Iraq "as responsibly and quickly as we can."

"This will not be easy," the New York senator told several hundred people, military families among them. "There are no quick solutions to the dilemmas we face and the consequences that are likely to flow from whatever actions are taken."

The former first lady tried again, as she has before, to link voting for Bush in 2000 to the idea of backing an untested candidate in this election - invoking Obama without mentioning him.

"We cannot have a leap of faith or any guesswork in this election," she said. "A lot of people voted for President Bush the first time because he said he was something called a compassionate conservative. That sounded good - nobody knew what it meant - but it sounded great."

In her effort to win the support of superdelegates, Clinton spent Wednesday night and Thursday morning in meetings at the headquarters of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Capitol Hill. The campaign refused to answer any questions about the meetings on Thursday.

Early today, a campaign spokesman, Jay Carson, said Clinton "talked about her victory in Pennsylvania and her strength among core Democratic constituencies and the fact that she is tested and ready and would be the best candidate to defeat John McCain in November."

North Carolina holds its primary May 6 - a potentially decisive day in Clinton's quest for the Democratic presidential nomination. Obama is favored in North Carolina; the primary in Indiana, also May 6, is considered close.

Clinton, aided by contributions from 80,000 new donors and 20,000 who had given before, raised $10 million in the 24 hours after winning the Pennsylvania primary, her campaign said. She had been strapped for cash before the contest and started making fundraising pleas as soon as the race was called.

And Clinton kept up that sales pitch at another North Carolina stop later Thursday, where some 2,500 people packed an Asheville civic auditorium, with hundreds more outside. She asked the raucous crowd to please "contribute so that we can be competitive and take our campaign to every corner of this state."

Clinton reported having just over $9 million cash on hand at the end of March and $10 million in debt, compared to Obama, who began April with more than four times the amount of money, or $40 million, in the bank.

Obama's pitch in Chicago focused on a group that has given him trouble in recent primary contests - lower-income working families that have favored Clinton and were likely to play an important role in primaries in Indiana and North Carolina in two weeks. He lost the Pennsylvania primary by nearly 10 percentage points.

He told the union activists, "It's good to be among friends and home at the same time."

The UFCW represents 1.3 million workers across the country, including many in meatpacking plants that have been targeted for raids seeking illegal immigrants. Obama vowed to press for "comprehensive immigration reform" that he said has been sidetracked by political infighting.

Clinton's campaign took a swipe at a top Indiana adviser for Obama in a television ad criticizing Obama for getting political help from lobbyists. The Clinton campaign bristles over Obama's claim that he does not take contributions from federal lobbyists or special interest groups and is trying to show that Obama is not so pure on the matter.

The Clinton ad, which aired in Pennsylvania, said that Obama in the past 10 years had "taken almost $2 million from lobbyists, corporations and PACs. The head of his New Hampshire campaign is a drug company lobbyist, in Indiana an energy lobbyist, a casino lobbyist in Nevada."

The Obama adviser, former state Democratic chairman Kip Tew, says his work as an attorney and state lobbyist at an Indianapolis law firm is not inconsistent with Obama's positions.

Associated Press writers Sara Kugler in Fayetteville and Asheville, N.C., and Tom Davies in Indianapolis contributed to this report.


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