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Saturday, April 5, 2008

Grand forks North Dakota, Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - Two months after North Dakota's primary, the state's Democratic party still managed to attract Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton for the opening day of its convention Friday.

"Some people think the Democrats can't win in North Dakota, so we shouldn't put too much time in here," Obama told a crowd of more than 15,000. "I tell you what, we didn't fly over North Dakota. We landed."

Clinton, who spoke an hour later, pledged to stand up for middle- and working-class voters in that state and elsewhere.

"Tonight, somewhere in North Dakota and across America, janitors are cleaning up, waitresses are pouring coffee, police officers are standing guard. They need a president who will stand with them," she said. "Tonight, families are sitting down to talk about how to keep the farm in the family or how to keep up with the bills that are mounting. How to afford the rising gas prices, commuting to work over long distances. They need a president who will deliver for them."

Obama and Clinton both stepped away from Pennsylvania and other states with looming votes to speak to the North Dakota Democrats.

"We can't afford to give John McCain the chance to carry on George Bush's can't-do, won't-do, won't-even-try style of politics," Obama said. "We are a better country than that."

North Dakota's senior senator, Kent Conrad, was an early Obama supporter. The state ended up backing Obama overwhelmingly in its Feb. 5 caucuses. This weekend, Democrats will decide which people are sent as delegates to the party's national convention.

That creates the chance for last-minute maneuvering by the Clinton and Obama campaigns to pick up an extra delegate or two. Clinton recently argued that pledged delegates aren't truly required by party rules to vote for a particular candidate.

The North Dakota delegates determined by caucus are split 8-5 for Obama. In addition, six of the state's seven unpledged superdelegates are backing the Illinois senator.

In his speech, delivered in a packed football arena, Obama mocked the Bush administration and stressed the midwestern roots of his mother and her parents. He even tried to adopt the local slang by exclaiming "Uff da" — a Scandinavian phrase that roughly translates to "wow."

Obama also mocked himself when accepting a hockey stick in honor of the University of North Dakota's team, the Fighting Sioux. He promised to give it a place of honor in his office but never to use it "because my hockey game is worse than my bowling."

For her part, Clinton vowed to press on with her campaign even though she narrowly trails Obama in the popular vote and among pledged delegates.

She again resisted calls to drop out of the race and compared herself to the university's hockey team, which is headed to the national college championship tournament.

"Can you imagine if the Fighting Sioux had played the Gophers to a tie on Sunday and then given up?" she said to boos. "They kept fighting and that's why they are going to the Frozen Four in Denver next week. I'm still fighting, and if you stand with me tomorrow we will fight on to victory."