Politics

Hillary Clinton's No. 1 Issue

Hillary Clinton's top priority has been changing lately depending on where she's campaigning, a strategy that Clinton is banking on to appeal to voters in the crucial states of Ohio and Texas, which vote in primaries and caucuses on Tuesday.

In Texas, Clinton's focused on national security. Her "3 a.m." television ad, which asks voters who they trust to manage a crisis, hit the airwaves on Friday and her campaign is emphasizing the issue in many discussions in the Lone Star State.

In Ohio on Sunday, Clinton told a sparsely attended but enthusiastic rally in Austintown that "the economy is the No. 1 issue in this campaign."

While some might call this rhetorical schizophrenia, it's about a specific targeting strategy that will determine whether Clinton emerges from Super Tuesday 2 as a credible candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.

With 11 straight losses lending a funereal air to her campaign in the last week, Clinton has soldiered on and still holds a narrow lead against Barack Obama in Ohio. She appears to have slightly narrowed the gap in Texas.

Clinton's gambling on national security to draw conservative so-called "Yellow Dog Democrats" in east and central-west Texas. The campaign is counting on this breed of voter supporting Clinton after re-evaluating Obama's credentials and his backbone to withstand the rigors of a national security crisis.

"We're on our turf now," said a senior Clinton adviser, referring to the national security debate.

In Ohio, where the "3 a.m." ad is not running at all (it's only airing sporadically in Texas), the economy rules and the good news for Clinton is in Sunday's Cleveland Plain Dealer poll, which puts Clinton up 47 percent to 43 percent over Obama.

The issue of free trade does not seem to be hurting Clinton as hard as advisers feared it might.

"The issue should be killing us and it's not," a top Clinton field organizer in Ohio told FOX News.

The Plain Dealer poll showed Obama and Clinton essentially split on the North American Free Trade Agreement, a trade deal passed during Bill Clinton's presidency and widely blamed for bleeding the state of tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs.

Obama has stoked anti-NAFTA sentiments across the state and reads widely from praiseworthy comments Clinton has uttered in the past.

A tie on NAFTA gives Clinton a fighting chance to win Ohio, owing to her solid support among women and growing support among low-income white men.

Obama's counter-strategy is to out-organize Clinton on the ground. Volunteers are pouring into Ohio from across the country -- largely on their own dime -- to canvass for Obama this weekend. The campaign's goal is to knock on 1 million doors this weekend.

Obama also has the grassroots support of the Service Employees International Union and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union -- big assets in the state's larger cities.

In Texas, Obama's camp says it is not worrying about the national security debate.

"Our judgment on this issue in the campaign has been just as solid as Obama's in opposing the Iraq war," a senior adviser said. "We know Democrats were drawn to us because of Barack's opposition to the war and this gives an opportunity to remind Democrats of that."

Obama has better ground forces in Texas also -- at least three times as many on-the-ground volunteers as Clinton -- and he is far better prepared to organize and win the post-primary caucuses on Tuesday evening.

The key for Obama is to win the popular vote and delegates distributed through primary and caucus returns and to deny Clinton any opportunity to diminish the Texas results by blaming the complicated two-step primary and caucus process -- unique on the election calendar this year. If Clinton only extracts a victory in Ohio on Tuesday, Obama will argue she's failed her own Texas-Ohio test and ought to contemplate leaving the race.

Top Democrats who thought it likely March 4 would be Clinton's last stand now fret that close contests in Ohio and Texas could leave the outcome opaque and give Clinton a reason to fight on -- especially after raising $35 million in February.

"She'll say I raised all that money and a million dollars a day on the Internet and those people don't want me to quit," a top Democratic strategist said.

Another Democrat who served in the Clinton administration but has soured on the Clinton political machine said: "Too much time since the last vote (the Feb. 19 Wisconsin primary) has allowed Hillary to pick herself up off the floor."

A muddled Super Tuesday Part 2 could send the campaign into a seven-week trek through Pennsylvania before its April 22 primary.

Mike Emanuel currently serves as chief congressional correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC). He joined FNC in 1997 as a Los Angeles-based correspondent.