EDINBURG, Texas -- Barack Obama campaigned yesterday among Hispanic voters, a key group for his opponent, Hillary Clinton, who canceled a rally after a police officer assigned to her motorcade was killed in a crash.
It was Obama's first visit to the Rio Grande Valley during his campaign. He stressed educational opportunity, immigration reform and a political alliance between blacks and Hispanics as he campaigned for the Democratic nomination.
Texas and Ohio are the biggest prizes in the March 4 presidential primaries. Obama, fresh from 11 consecutive wins in primaries and caucuses, is hoping to build on his delegate lead. For the Clinton camp, the primaries offer a chance to reinvigorate her campaign.
In Texas, where early voting has begun, Clinton began her day with a round of television appearances before heading to a rally. A motorcycle officer who was part of the candidate's motorcade was killed in an accident en route to the rally, which drew about 1,000 people.
Clinton, who said she was "heartsick" over the death, canceled her next appearance in Fort Worth. She went to Dallas' Methodist Medical Center, where she planned to visit with the officer's family.
At the beginning of a rally at the American Bank Center Arena in Corpus Christi, Obama called for a moment of silence in memory of the officer. Obama said the officer had been on his detail during a visit.
The Clinton campaign highlighted a segment from Thursday's debate at the University of Texas, Austin in which she described overcoming personal and political challenges. Reaching out to potential voters, Clinton said that typical Americans face far greater challenges every day, and she praised Obama.
Clinton continued that theme yesterday morning.
"I'm very proud that we have the two of us in this contest seeking the Democratic nomination, hoping to become our next president," she said on CBS' The Early Show.
Obama focused on low- and middle-income families trying to better themselves. At the University of Texas Pan-American in Edinburg, he commiserated with students struggling to pay for higher education.
He said the model for higher education "is built around the idea of a bunch of co-eds on an Ivy League campus" but said that that won't work for immigrants in the Rio Grande Valley, where students return to school, often with children of their own, and with financially strapped parents.
Clinton has run well among Hispanic voters in previous primaries, and her campaign is counting on that support to help her in Texas, where polls have found her lead dwindling.
Obama told the crowd in Edinburgh, which is nearly 90 percent Hispanic, that the nation should stop using immigration as a "political football" and solve the problem.
"I don't like what the Republicans have been doing," he said, "talking about this as if it is a racial issue, as if it's just a Southern border issue. We're going to have to change that."
He invoked Cesar Chavez, co-founder of the United Farm Workers Union and a hero of the Hispanic civil rights movement who was supported by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
"When Cesar Chavez was in the midst of the fight to organize agricultural workers, Dr. King sent him a telegram," Obama said. It said, "Our cause is the same."
Earlier, the Obama campaign again tried to link Clinton to Arizona Sen. John McCain, the likely Republican presidential nominee. He again questioned how Clinton could campaign against McCain when both had voted the same way on some issues, including the war in Iraq.
In an appearance on NBC's Today show, Clinton said she had big differences with McCain over Iraq.
"He says he wants to leave troops in Iraq for 100 years; I want to get them out starting within 60 days. He says he doesn't know much about the economy; I have an economic blueprint ... and basically his policies are more of the same when it comes to President Bush's failed policies. That's what we should be talking about."
McCain, who was campaigning in the Midwest, defended lobbyists advising his campaign. Reports in The New York Times and The Washington Post have suggested that McCain had an inappropriate relationship with a female lobbyist.
McCain said he had never had a romantic relationship with her or taken any official action on her clients' behalf.
Yesterday morning, McCain defended his campaign aides.
"These people have honorable records, and they're honorable people, and I'm proud to have them as part of my team," he said after a town hall meeting in Indianapolis.
Maria L. La Ganga and Michael Muskal write for the Los Angeles Times.