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Democrats spar in Wisconsin

DE PERE, Wis. – Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton carried their rivalry Monday across this ice-crusted state, where voters are primed to give one of them a significant boost today.

They fought over who may have stolen whose speech lines, over debates and over economic policies.

But it remained unclear in this notoriously independent state which of them will wind up with the victory that each so badly wants.

Polls suggest that the race is close. Clinton made last-minute adjustments in her Monday schedule so she would spend all day campaigning here, instead of leaving early as originally planned. Obama’s wife was scheduled to campaign from Milwaukee to the Minnesota border, while her husband planned a late-evening rally Monday.

At St. Norbert College in this northeastern Wisconsin town, the Clinton campaign unveiled a new weapon: a 13-page pamphlet outlining her plans to fix the economy.

The pamphlet, given to rally-goers in the college gym, details Clinton’s plans for universal health care, a freeze on mortgage foreclosures and the creation of millions of “green-collar jobs,” popular positions in this Rust Belt state.

Obama spent much of his day in Ohio, a key state in the March 4 primaries. He defended himself against charges that, in a Saturday night speech in Milwaukee, his words were almost identical to those of Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick in 2006.

At a news conference, he said that while “I’m sure I should have” given Patrick credit, Obama added: “I’ve written two books, wrote most of my speeches. Deval and I do trade ideas all the time. He’s occasionally used lines of mine, and I, at a Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Wisconsin, I used words of his.”

Obama then tried to drag Clinton into this fray, saying he has noticed that she “on occasion had used words of mine as well. … When Senator Clinton says it’s time to ‘turn the page’ in one of her stump speeches or that she’s ‘fired up’ and ‘ready to go,’ I don’t think that anybody suggests that somehow she’s not focused on the issues.”

Wisconsin voters seemed largely oblivious to the fracas. At downtown Milwaukee’s Pabst Theater, as they waited to hear Obama’s wife, Michelle, a lot of people were still making up their minds.

George Warner, a retiree, and his wife, Carol, a social worker, are torn. “In the Clinton years, we were happy. Everybody seemed to have money,” said Carol Warner. “But Obama has a lot of good ideas, and he’s very frank.”

Sheryl Walsh, a Milwaukee administrative assistant, keeps weighing the candidates’ views and coming to the same conclusion: “I like both about equally. Nothing stands out.”

But some voters didn’t like one thing: sniping between the candidates. The one who seems to do it most will not get their votes.

“The negative stuff just doesn’t do it. I liked Hillary Clinton until she started what the media calls the smugness and self-righteousness,” said Mary Ann Beaumont, a Shorewood accountant.

Clinton’s pamphlet features a populist pitch that seems aimed squarely at the working-class voters she badly needs here, in Ohio and eventually in Pennsylvania, which votes April 22.

“Over the past five years, big corporations and special interests have been given a free pass to profit, often at the expense of the American worker,” it reads.

“As president, Hillary will make it a priority to scale back special benefits and subsidies to these corporations and put those resources to work for our economy again.”