US Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama slipped away for a private meeting with former rival John Edwards on February 17 to seek his endorsement as the Illinois senator and Hillary Clinton battle for Wisconsin.
With eight straight wins under his belt, Obama hoped to make it two more on february 19 in nominating contests in Wisconsin and Hawaii, where he was born. Recent opinion polls put him ahead in Wisconsin, but not by much.
Obama, who would be the first black U.S. president, made a detour from the campaign trail on February 17 morning, flying from Chicago to North Carolina to meet Edwards at his home and left behind the retinue of media who normally travel with him.
Clinton, a New York senator, made a similar trip earlier this month.
Obama had hoped to visit Edwards earlier but the meeting was canceled when it threatened to turn into a media circus.
In the tight race to become the Democratic nominee in the November election, both Obama and Clinton want to attract the former North Carolina senator's supporters.
Obama and Edwards - who dropped out of the Democratic race in January - discussed "the state of the campaign and the pressing issues facing American families," Obama spokesman Bill Burton said.
Edwards focused on the needs of working people during his campaign, and Clinton has picked up on his message of economic populism.
Bad weather in Wisconsin forced both Obama and Clinton to cancel planned campaign events in the state. Clinton, a former first lady, flew to Wausau amid freezing rain only to have to circle back to Milwaukee, where she had spent the night because the plane could not land in Wausau.
Clinton, who has seen her big lead in the national polls disappear, instead visited a diner and a Latin American grocery store.
"I need your help on Tuesday," she told one family as she mingled with voters at Miss Katie's diner and sat down for a lunch of corned beef hash and eggs. Asked what she thought her chances were in the election, she said, "I'm feeling good today."
She later sampled chips with mole sauce and bought some red jalapeno peppers - one of her favorite foods - at the El Rey supermarket. Clinton is trying to solidify the strong support she has had among Hispanic voters.
'I can out-campaign them'
Meanwhile, John McCain, with little Republican opposition, focused on the November election. The Arizona senator, a prisoner of war during the Vietnam conflict, has all but clinched the Republican nomination even though his chief rival, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, is still in the race.
In an interview aired on ABC's "This Week" on February 17, McCain said that in the fall campaign he would paint the Democrats as liberal while stressing his conservative credentials.
"I can out-campaign them, and I can out-debate them and I can out-perform them in what I think my vision for America is more in keeping with the majority of Americans," McCain said.
But McCain has had problems getting the conservative wing of his own party behind him. He said he was making progress toward that end.
"We've got to reunite the party, and we've got to re-energize the party," he said. "And I'm prepared to do that. We've got plenty of time. But I won't waste a day."
On February 18, McCain will pick up a major endorsement from former President George H.W. Bush, the father of President George W. Bush. The president has not endorsed anyone but has made it is clear he is ready to back McCain once he clinches the nomination.
After February 19 voting, Democrats have an eye on March 4, when the big states of Texas and Ohio hold primaries.
Victories in those states have become vital for Clinton, who would be the first woman president, as she tries to close the gap with Obama in the race for pledged delegates awarded by the state-by-state contests to pick a Democratic nominee.
(Writing by Caren Bohan and David Wiessler; editing by Todd Eastham)