PONCE, Puerto Rico - Hillary Rodham Clinton ended a three-day campaign swing across Puerto Rico the same way many Americans mark Memorial Day - with family, friends and a salute to the sacrifices of military men and women.
Clinton, who is trying despite the odds against her to catch up to Barack Obama in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, visited with Laura Santiago Suarez and Carlos Rivera Figueroa. Residents of a public-housing project in Bayamon, the couple talked about their 21-year-old son, Jonathan, a soldier awaiting redeployment for another tour in Iraq.
Sitting in the living room of their apartment, Clinton said that once she is president she will end the war so "you will not have to worry about him going back to Iraq."
She also talked about the high cost of electricity and gas in Puerto Rico, and said she wanted to see the island use solar and wind energy to prosper in the face of skyrocketing oil prices.
Hillary Clinton and her husband also met with a family that received federal aid after Hurricane Georges in 1998. As first lady, Hillary Clinton had visited them to see how the storm affected Puerto Ricans.
It is the Clintons' long history with Puerto Rico - and Hispanic voters in general - that gives Clinton a decided edge in the island's presidential primary on June 1, not to mention that her home state of New York has approximately 1 million Puerto Ricans.
But Clinton needs something approaching a mathematical miracle to catch Obama in the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination. Puerto Rico has 55 delegates at stake in its primary, but Obama had a total of 1,977 to Clinton's 1,779, according to the latest Associated Press tally. He was just 49 delegates short of the 2,026 needed to clinch the nomination.
As Clinton wrapped up her Puerto Rican swing, Obama marked Memorial Day in New Mexico, a battleground state in the general election.
Obama told a group of veterans that he can't know what it's like to walk into battle or lose a child in combat, since he has experienced neither, but he said he is committed to strengthening the military and improving veterans' services.
"As president of the United States, I will not let you down," he promised.
Obama said President Bush is asking the troops to do too much with too little, such as interacting with civilians without the necessary translators and handling nation-building tasks that could be done by the State Department and other agencies.
"We're asking them to be teachers, social workers, engineers, diplomats. That's not what they're trained to do," the Illinois senator said during a town hall-style meeting at the Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces.
Heavy use of private contractors, such as Blackwater, also hurts troops, Obama said. Contractors are paid many times what U.S. personnel make, but they aren't subject to the same rules and their misconduct inflames anti-American sentiment, he said. And when troops return home, the Bush administration doesn't do enough to help those suffering from combat stress or to help them get civilian jobs, Obama said.
In Puerto Rico, Clinton also spoke at a rally of union members from AFSCME, the American Federation of Teachers and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
"Puerto Rico should support Hillary because she understands you better," Bill Clinton told the crowd. The former president and the couple's daughter, Chelsea, will remain in Puerto Rico while Hillary Clinton heads to South Dakota and Montana, which hold the final primaries a week from today.
Standing in front of her family and a group of supporters in bright green, union T-shirts, Clinton spoke through a translator.
She revved the crowd with a pledge she has repeated at every stop of the three-day swing - that as president she will expand U.S. tax breaks, benefits and economic development programs in Puerto Rico to make them on par with those on the mainland.
"I am the only candidate with a comprehensive agenda for Puerto Rico, an economic agenda to make sure Puerto Rico is treated the same way for economic incentives as the states are," she said. *