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Clinton promises she'll fight to the finish

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- New York Sen. Hillary Clinton began her presidential stump speech at the Alerus Center here Friday by harking back to 1997 when her husband, President Bill Clinton, visited the flood-and-fire ravaged city.

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- New York Sen. Hillary Clinton began her presidential stump speech at the Alerus Center here Friday by harking back to 1997 when her husband, President Bill Clinton, visited the flood-and-fire ravaged city.

"It's especially moving to know that this city has come back from the flood of 1997," she said. "(That flood) brought out the true grit and resilience in all of you ... and you had a partner in the White House."

Comparing the Red River Valley flood to 2005's Hurricane Katrina, she asked the audience, "wouldn't it be nice," to have a president who kept a promise to clean up after natural disasters and had a competent director of FEMA.

It was a personal moment, unique to the audience, in a speech that for the most part hewed closely to Clinton's standard stump speech. But it was a moment that caught the audience's attention and brought forth a burst of applause.

In another unique moment, Clinton scanned the audience and said in mock surprise, "I didn't know there were this many Democrats in North Dakota," perhaps a joking reference to her much publicized comments that it is unlikely a Democrat can break the 44-year streak and win North Dakota's presidential endorsement

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The Alerus Center audience was at about 14,500 by then, down from about 17,400 during Barack Obama's speech earlier in the evening, the diminution due in part to Obama supporters who had left, but perhaps even more so to audience members who couldn't wait longer for dinner and for whom a pretzel or hot dog wouldn't suffice.

(Clinton was scheduled to speak at 7:30, but because of flight delays, didn't take the stage until about 8:45.)

Fewer audience members were left by the time, Clinton took the stage, but they were enthused. In the minutes before she arrived, spectators did the wave with Hillary signs, running down one end of the stadium seating and up the other.

Floating in the sea of blue Hillary signs was one woman with a green sign and the magic-markered words "Bill for First Lady." When the overhead TV monitor focused on the sign, spectators burst into laughter and applause and the woman flipped the sign over, where it read "Hillary or Bust."

Stuart Nygard, an 18-year old convention delegate from Williston, is reparing to vote in his first presidential election.

Most of Nygard's friends are Obama supporters, he said, and he's not totally decided for Hillary himself. But he's leaning toward her, impressed by her experience in the White House as first lady. But, most of all, Nygard said, he just wants the race to keep going.

"People are too quick to want to end the contest," he said. "We need to keep it going, even to the convention. The longer each candidate stays in the campaign, the more we'll know about them."

The suggestions by some party officials that Clinton should withdraw from the race came up several times during the convention. At a brief mid-afternoon press conference, North Dakota's congressional delegation, all of whom have endorsed Obama, told reporters that Clinton should be in no rush to exit.

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"Our party is rich in talent and we have choices the Republicans don't have this year," said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. "We've got two great candidates and we've made tough choices," he said of his endorsement of Obama.

"Sen. Clinton is absolutely right to stay in the campaign," Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said, though he said he thinks it is unlikely the race will continue all the way to the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

Fighting was a staple of Clinton speech too, from her entrance and exit music - the theme to "Rocky" - to one of her closing statements - another Grand Forks-specific moment - when she asked audience members:

"What if the Fighting Sioux had fought the (Minnesota) Gophers to a tie and then given up? They didn't ... and that's why they're going to the Frozen Four ... I'm ready to keep fighting because this country is worth fighting for."

(Of course, the Sioux didn't play the Gophers last weekend in the regional final -- it was the Wisconsin Badgers.)

After her 50-minute speech, Clinton fought for support on her way out too, spending more than 20 minutes passing through the crowd, shaking hands and posing with supporters for several dozen photos. Clinton remained by the stage until nearly 10 p.m.

In response to Clinton's, as well as Obama's earlier speech in Grand Forks, Christ Taylor, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee issued this response: "This election will be decided on the issues and not old-style, political mud-slinging. Sens. Clinton and Obama have chosen once again to try to mince words rather than offer real solutions to America's problems. Senator McCain has the experience and ability to lead our nation in the right direction. Rather than hurl attacks at his opponents, Sen. McCain is ready to find common-sense answers to America's problems."

Joe Marks is a staff writer for the Grand Forks Herald. The Herald and the Bemidji Pioneer are both owned by Forum Communications Co.

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