Clinton, Obama battle in Indiana, North Carolina primaries

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama battled in the Indiana and North Carolina primaries on Tuesday, the last big-delegate prizes left in their marathon race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Obama began the day with 1,745.5 delegates, to 1,608 for Clinton, out of 2,025 needed for the nomination.

Both races were dominated in their final days by Clinton's call for a summertime suspension of the federal gasoline tax, an issue that she created after scoring a victory in the Pennsylvania primary two weeks ago.

Obama ridiculed the proposal as a stunt that would cost jobs, not the break for consumers she claimed. The two rivals dug in, devoting personal campaign time and television commercials to the issue.

Indiana had 72 delegates at stake, and Clinton projected confidence about the results by arranging a primary-night appearance in Indianapolis.

North Carolina had 115 delegates at stake, and Obama countered with a rally in Raleigh.

Clinton, who appeared at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Tuesday with racer Sarah Fisher, wouldn't make a prediction about the outcome of the primaries.

"Every race is filed with the unexpected. You never know what's going to happen from day to day," said Clinton. "I never make predictions."

Clinton posed for pictures with the racer's pit crew in its garage and Fisher talked about parts of the powder blue car.

"This may be the technology of the future," Clinton said, holding onto a detached high-tech steering wheel.

Asked by reporters what her message was by being at the Speedway, she said: "That we need to get on the track in America."

"If you want to go forward, you put it in D. If you want to go backward, you put it in R," Clinton said.

Fisher, who said she voted for Clinton that morning, piped up, adding: "And just so you know, we don't have reverse in this car."

Obama started the day at a family restaurant in the Indianapolis suburbs, where he worked the breakfast crowd, and managed to squeeze in a quick game of basketball-as is he often does on primary days-before flying to North Carolina.

"I feel good," Obama said when asked about the day's voting after a stop at Four Seasons Family Restaurant in the Greenwood, Ind. "I think we've campaigned hard. I think it's going to be close. I'm seeing a lot of enthusiasm."

Obama leads Clinton in delegates won in primaries and caucuses. Despite his defeat two weeks ago, has steadily whittled away at the former first lady's advantage in superdelegates in the past two weeks and trailed 255-269.5.

Clinton saved her candidacy with her win in Pennsylvania, and campaigned aggressively in Indiana in hopes of denying Obama a victory next door to his home state of Illinois. The state is home to large numbers of blue collar workers who have been attracted to the former first lady, and she sought to use her call for a federal gas tax holiday to draw them and other economically pinched voters closer.

Inevitably, the issue quickly took on larger dimensions.

Obama said it symbolizes a candidacy consisting of "phony ideas, calculated to win elections instead of actually solving problems."

Clinton retorted, "Instead of attacking the problem, he's attacking my solutions," and ran an ad in the campaign's final hours that said she "gets it."

To a large extent, the gasoline tax eclipsed the controversy surrounding Obama's former pastor. After saying several weeks earlier he could not disown the Rev. Jeremiah Wright for his fiery sermons, Obama did precisely that when the minister embarked on a media tour.

At a news conference in North Carolina last week, he equated Wright's comments with "giving comfort to those who prey on hate."

The balance of the primary schedule includes West Virginia, with 28 delegates on May 13; Oregon with 52 and Kentucky with 51 a week later; Puerto Rico with 55 delegates on June 1; and Montana with 16 and South Dakota with 15 on June 3.


David Espo reported from Washington. Associated Press Writer Tom Raum contributed to this report from Indianapolis.