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Clinton Could Challenge Obama's Deep Illinois Roots


Now a closer look at the Clinton-Obama match-up in Illinois. It's one of those delegate rich states up for grabs on Super Tuesday. It is the home turf for Barack Obama, the state's junior senator, but it's also the birth state of Hillary Clinton. She's the New York senator and former First Lady of Arkansas. NPR's Cheryl Corley, another Illinois native, has been out and about and finds the state's Democrats torn.

CHERYL CORLEY: Her name was, of course, Hillary Rodham when she lived in Chicago. She was born in a hospital on the city's north side. That's closed now. And so I'm walking on a street where she lived as an infant. It's pretty tight parking here, lots of apartments. Okay, here's the spot. I'm going to ring and see if anybody's inside. Marge Ford(ph) is one of the condo owners in this new four-story red brick building. They call themselves, the Rodham Manor Condo Association. Who's Ford voting for?


Ms. MARGE FORD: Probably Hillary, probably. I lean in her direction. But certainly all the negative publicity about the Clintons, of late, hasn't helped.

CORLEY: And the rest in the building?

Ms. FORD: I would guess that the building is probably split. It's not something that we discuss at our condo meetings.

CORLEY: It's a familiar dilemma in Illinois households and it extends into political families as well. For example, Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Junior and Jerry Costello support Obama. But Jackson's mother and Costello's wife are with Clinton.

Mr. JAY PRITZKER (National Co-Chair, Clinton Campaign): Oh, I don't think it's divisiveness, really, I think it's natural.


CORLEY: Jay Pritzker is a national co-chair of the Clinton campaign and heir to the Hyatt Hotels fortune. His billionaire sister, Penny Pritzker, raises money for Obama as his national finance chair. What's at stake in this hometown battle is not trivial. 2,025 delegates are needed to win the nomination, and Illinois offers 153, and candidates get a share if they pick up at least 15 percent of the vote in a Congressional district.

Unidentified Man: Oh, you want to volunteer. For Hillary, right?

CORLEY: The Clinton campaign has volunteer-run phone bank activity throughout the state. Richard Johnson and Karen Egar(ph) live on Chicago's northwest side. The Clinton lawn sign in their yard is the only one on the street. Karen says they're running the phone bank to remind people there's another candidate running here besides Barack Obama.

Ms. KAREN EGAR (Volunteer): Particularly Hillary. It's not just a fait accompli.

CORLEY: National co-chair for the Obama campaign, Chicago Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, says she's not surprised that Clinton decided to go toe-to-toe with Obama in Illinois.

Congresswoman JAN SCHAKOWSKY (Democrat, Illinois): No, not at all. Look, I expected that the Clintons were gonna be competitive or at least make an effort to seriously compete everywhere. And there is reason for her to believe that in Illinois, where it's her home state, that she would do reasonably well.

Unidentified Woman #1: I'm calling from the Barack Obama campaign.

CORLEY: At Obama's headquarters they're taking nothing for granted. They're phone bank operation teams with rows of volunteers reading scripts from computer screens as they ask people to come in and help. On this day Senator Ted Kennedy has just endorsed Obama. After watching the event on TV, a group of Illinois state officials come to the front of the room.

Mr. DAN HYNES (Comptroller): This is Barack Obama country, and there's no mistaking that.

CORLEY: Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes says while Obama campaigns elsewhere, he and the others will be barnstorming the state pushing for votes for Obama.

Mr. HYNES: We can't assume that because he's from here he's going to have the state locked up. We know he's going to win big. But every single vote can lead to more delegates for Barack Obama. And we need to get out there and vote early. We need to get out there and vote in huge numbers for Barack Obama.

CORLEY: There are some sections of the state where the Clinton campaign believes Hillary Clinton should have a strong showing. Bill Clinton came in to campaign in southern Illinois. And then there's suburban Park Ridge, where Hillary grew up. At one of her teenage hangouts, the cozy diner called The Pickwick Restaurant, there's even an item named for her on the menu.

Unidentified Woman #2: This is Hillary Burger. It's a regular hamburger with chopped green olives. That's it.

CORLEY: Park Ridge is still a heavily Republican area, but enough Democrats have moved in that some call this Hillary country. But not backing off from a home town advantage is not just a Clinton strategy; Obama has targeted areas in New York, hoping to snare his own share of delegates during Tuesday's massive primary in the state Hillary Clinton now calls home.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.