Rhode Island's hot primary battle

The Rhode Island primary continues to heat up, with plans by the past and present rock stars of the Democratic Party to visit here, respectively, today and Saturday.

I take a look at the race in this week's Phoenix:

If Barack Obama proves unstoppable in his pursuit of the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton could remember her Rhode Island College rally last Sunday as one of those instances of what might have been. Surrounded by a bevy of local Democratic officials, Clinton bathed in the intense affection of an adoring crowd, her every statement punctuated by wild applause, chants, and a rising sea of blue signs touting her campaign.
As it stands, she might still win Rhode Island’s primary on Tuesday, but don’t count on it. Obama’s cash-swelled campaign is making an aggressive push here, mixing an energetic grassroots effort on the ground with a three-to-one spending advantage on radio and television advertising. Building on a higher national youth vote in 2004, surging local voter enrollment can also be expected to benefit the Illinois senator.
On Monday, the Clinton campaign got some good news when a Rasmussen Reports survey conducted two days earlier, of more than 1000 Rhode Island Democratic primary voters, showed Clinton with a 15-point lead over Obama, 53 percent to 38 percent, with almost 10 percent undecided. An earlier poll in February by Brown University’s Darrell West showed Clinton with 36 percent, Obama with 28 percent, 27 percent uncommitted, and nine percent undecided.
Naturally, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, during a conference call with reporters on Monday, downplayed the Rasmussen results, expressing his belief that the Rhode Island race is closer and tightening. This wouldn’t be surprising, considering how Obama has wiped out big deficits in other states and captivated a broad swath of Rhode Islanders with his initial opposition to the war in Iraq and his charismatic message of change.
That Clinton spent most of the day here last Sunday — with Bill Clinton due to visit Bryant University in Smithfield on Thursday, February 28 — shows just how much things have changed in a place where, as US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Clinton’s local campaign co-chair, said during the RIC rally, the Clintons should be considered honorary Rhode Islanders.

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