Hungry for votes, Clinton and Obama dine with Democrats


RICHMOND Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois blasted President Bush at Virginia Democrats annual fundraising dinner Saturday in a final push for votes in the states presidential primary.

Running neck and neck for the Democratic presidential nomination, Clinton and Obama spoke at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, which attracted an estimated 6,000 people to the Stuart C. Siegel Center at Virginia Commonwealth University.

If Im your nominee, youll never have to worry that Ill be knocked out of the race because I do have the strength and experience to lead this country, Clinton said. And Im ready to go toe to toe with Arizona Sen. John McCain, the front-runner for the Republican nomination.

Later, Obama said, The stakes are too high and the challenges are too great to play the same old Washington game with the same old Washington players and expect a different result. People want to turn the page; they want to write a new chapter in American history.

The event was held at the Siegel Center to accommodate what Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder called the largest Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in the history of the commonwealth. 

Wilder was pointed in his support for Obama and criticism of Clinton. Wilder recalled Clinton telling him that her husband, Bill Clinton, had almost won Virginia in the 1992 presidential election. Wilder said he told Hillary Clinton, I knew that would be the case, but if you campaigned here, you wouldve won Virginia.

And Im saying that to our candidates today, Wilder said. Its not enough to dip your fingers and your toes in the Potomac across from Washington, D.C. You got to come here and talk to us, spend some time with us, and youll see results. Im glad to see theyre doing that today.

Clinton gave a speech heavy in its criticism of Bush and McCain.

We tried it George W. Bushs way: Go at it alone wherever you can and cooperate only when you have to, she said.

Clinton said McCain had made mistakes on the economy and the war in Iraq.

President Bush has already put his stamp of approval on McCains conservative credentials. Im sure that will help, Clinton said, receiving one of the bigger laughs of the night. Let me ask you for a moment to imagine that it is finally Jan. 20, 2009, Clinton said.  Someone standing on the steps of the Capitol will place his or her hand on the Bible and be sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. Our task tonight is to make sure that president is a Democrat.

The evening included speeches by U.S. Rep. Jim Moran and former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, a candidate for the U.S. Senate. Gov. Tim Kaine introduced Obama.

One year ago tonight, I became the first official outside the state of Illinois to endorse U.S. Senator Barrack Obama, Kaine said. He said he endorsed Obama because I had a feeling, folks I had a feeling America wanted excellence again.

Obama had a noticeably larger number of supporters than did Sen. Clinton. Many Democrats attending the event waved posters saying, Change we can believe in Obamas theme.

Obama criticized McCains support of the Iraq war and the Bush administrations tax cuts, which the Illinois senator says favor the rich.

I believe John McCain is a good man and a genuine American hero, Obama said. But he said, Somewhere along the line, the wheels came off the Straight-Talk Express.

Obama said he would work to reform health care and make college more affordable. However, he said, Young people will have to give back. America will invest in you, and you will invest in America.

Virginia will hold its Democratic and Republican primaries Tuesday.