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Clinton heads for the hills

From NBC/NJ's Mike Memoli
HENDERSONVILLE, N.C. -- Hillary Clinton tried to make clear here that her plan for a gas tax holiday is just a part of her plan to address fuel costs, saying that there "is no contradiction" between dealing legislation she has now introduced and a "long-term" energy plan.

"We have a choice," she said. "We can choose to have you continue to pay the federal gas tax this summer or we can choose to try to make the oil companies pay it out of their record profits. This is the kind of choice that I believe we should be trying to make, because I know where I stand, and I know where my opponents stand."

Her rhetoric was somewhat tamer than the "with us or against us" line that Obama criticized her for earlier today. But the campaign told reporters before her remarks that Clinton had officially introduced legislation to suspend the gas tax for the summer and pay for it with a "windfall profits tax," showing she intends to see her plan through despite opposition.

Clinton's rally was in a picturesque downtown setting outside the Henderson County courthouse downtown. Thousands crammed into the streets to greet her, and she tailored some of her remarks to emphasize policies for small towns.

"[I'm] feeling so much at home because small towns, whether they're in North Carolina, New York or Arkansas, are really the base of this country," she said. "Small towns gave us our values; small towns give us so much of the texture of our lives. And we've gotta make sure we never lose that. That means having a president who's going to focus on agriculture for family farmers. … It also means we need an economic development program for small town America."

The Clintons have focused on this region of the state in their campaigning here, because as Gov. Mike Easley said in his introductory remarks, "There's power in them there hills."

"It's no accident that Hillary Clinton has been up here as many times as she has," he said, noting that 10 percent of the primary vote would come from the region. "If she carries the Mountains of North Carolina then she will carry the state of North Carolina. If she carries North Carolina, she will get the nomination. And when she gets the nomination she'll be the next president of the United States."