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Clinton highlights health care, security

The Baltimore Sun

BOWIE -- Appearing before thousands of enthusiastic supporters at Bowie State University last night, Sen. Hillary Clinton stressed her proposals for the economy and health care in a final burst of campaigning before tomorrow's Maryland primary.

At another appearance earlier in the day at a Manassas, Va., middle school, she stressed her national security credentials, weaving together policy proposals with criticism of Sen. Barack Obama.

"People say, why don't you come and give us one of those great rhetorical flourishes and get everybody whipped up," Clinton said at the Manassas rally, in a not-so-subtle reference to Obama's soaring oratory. "Well," she said, "I want you to hold me accountable."

Most pundits give Obama the edge in tomorrow's primaries in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, but Clinton made stops in both states as her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and her daughter, Chelsea, campaigned in Maryland and Washington, D.C.

A long line swung out from the doors of Bowie State's Leonidas James Gymnasium as people waited in the blustery weather to clear security. A man selling political buttons worked the crowd, looking for customers. "These buttons will not make you warm," he said. "But they will make you look cool when you walk in there."

Clinton took the stage early, along with Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, Gov. Martin O'Malley and Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson. She stressed change, a theme that appealed to the crowd, many of whom said they are undecided.

"Now we have to once again resolve what kind of nation we will be," Clinton told the crowd. "This election is about changing the direction of our country."

Alan and Eilene Cohen said they are undecided. The Baltimore residents heard about the rally on television. Eilene Cohen, 58, noted that the last time she had come to such an event was when she went to see John F. Kennedy in New York in 1961.

"I'm on the fence," she said. "But I'm a Democrat on the fence."

Alan Cohen, 57, said he's trying to figure out which Democrat is most electable.

"From what I see in both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is that they are both competent people, either one of which would be preferable to another eight years of the same."

Clinton's supporters began arriving outside Grace E. Metz Middle School in Manassas more than an hour before her speech, the line wrapping around the school as voters braved a biting wind. Some said they were pleased with their party's primary choices but preferred Clinton's experience to Obama's vigor.

Joyce Lightner, a social studies teacher at the school and an African-American, said she is supporting Clinton because she seems like a fighter.

"It's nice to see a female running and an African-American running," Lightner said. "But as far as my decision goes, I'm making it on the issues and how they present themselves."

About 3,500 people crowded into the school gym and an auxiliary gym, according to one police estimate, a larger crowd than was expected. Those who didn't make it into the gym crowded hallways and the school lobby, craning their necks for a glimpse of the candidate.

While the crowd was filled with loud and eager Clinton supporters, some said they remained undecided. Barbara Meagher, who sat in the bleachers, said she was a member of a Nurses for Hillary group last fall and even made calls to Iowa voters.

But then her colleagues began talking up the other candidates, her 29-year-old daughter became a volunteer for the Obama campaign, and Meagher, 56, quit the group. Yesterday, Meagher said she was impressed with Clinton's ideas and with the enthusiasm of the crowd - her daughter had given her the impression that Obama had a monopoly on passionate followers.

Still, she was undecided. "These are two good candidates that I'd love to see on the same ticket," she said.

stephen.kiehl@baltsun.com john.fritze@baltsun.com

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