JIM LEHRER: Texas and Ohio, the big two primaries coming a week from today. All of the candidates were in Ohio. NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman has that report.
KWAME HOLMAN: Barack Obama campaigned in Cleveland today ahead of tonight’s Democratic debate and picked up the endorsement of Connecticut senator and former presidential candidate himself Chris Dodd.
The 27-year Senate veteran dismissed any suggestion that Obama lacks the experience to be president.
SEN. CHRIS DODD (D), Connecticut: He has been poked and prodded, analyzed and criticized, called too green, too trusting, too lofty. And for all of that, he’s already won half of our nation’s states and primaries and caucuses and votes of more than 10 million Americans, showing judgment, grace and poise in the process.
Over all that time, I’ve been watching, over the last almost four years, on the Foreign Relations Committee, on the Labor Committee, which we serve, and as a fellow candidate for the presidency of the United States.
And I’ll admit I was skeptical, like many others, as to whether or not this new face in American politics could do all the things he desired to do, that many of us desire to do.
But then with growing conviction and now as I stand here today with certainty that the man I’m standing next to can restore America’s possibility.
KWAME HOLMAN: Obama went on to field questions from reporters and was asked about the recent fiery exchanges between his campaign and that of Hillary Clinton over Obama campaign mailers sent out to Ohio voters criticizing Clinton’s health care plan and her past support for the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Then, there’s the photograph that appeared online yesterday of Obama in traditional Somali dress during a 2006 trip to Africa. Obama’s campaign accused Clinton’s of circulating the image, an allegation the Clinton camp denied.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), Illinois: Certainly, I don’t think that photograph was circulated to enhance my candidacy. I think that’s fair to say. Do I think that it is reflective of Senator Clinton’s approach to the campaign? Probably not.
KWAME HOLMAN: Obama added that he spoke with his staff about running a respectful campaign.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: In the final weeks of the campaign, things get more competitive. And people I think recognize that there’s a lot at stake, and people have been putting in a lot of work over the last year and been away from families and people are getting tired.
And so certainly what I’ve told my staff — and I think that I’m sure that Senator Clinton has told her staff, as well — is that let’s play to win, but let’s make sure that we are maintaining the kind of campaign that, win or lose, we will be proud of afterwards.
KWAME HOLMAN: But at a town hall event outside Cleveland this afternoon, Hillary Clinton still was fired up over the Obama mailers.
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), New York: I got a little hot over the weekend down in Cincinnati, you know, because… I don’t mind having a debate. I don’t mind airing our differences. But I really mind it when Senator Obama’s campaign sends you literature in the mail that is false, misleading, and has been discredited. That is not the way to run a campaign to pick the Democratic nominee for president.
McCain disavows 'Hussein' tactic
KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, John McCain campaigned in Cincinnati this morning. But seemingly free of a serious challenge from Mike Huckabee, who continued to campaign in Ohio, as well, McCain went after his Democratic rivals on their similar positions on Iraq.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Arizona: So the Democrats will be having a debate tonight, Senator Obama and Senator Clinton whom I respect. And you know what? They'll be fawning all over each other as to how quickly they can set a date for withdrawal from Iraq, de facto surrender, de facto surrender.
And, my friends, they were wrong when they said that the surge would not succeed. It's succeeding. They were wrong when they said that the political process couldn't move forward. It is succeeding.
And I'm not asking them to apologize. I'm asking them to put out their hand with us and support this strategy that's succeeding.
KWAME HOLMAN: Among the celebrities at the McCain rally was local radio talk show host Bill Cunningham, who earlier tried to incite the crowd by emphatically referring to Barack Obama using his middle name.
BILL CUNNINGHAM, Talk Radio Host: ... at some point, the media will quit taking sides in this thing and maybe start covering Barack Hussein Obama the same way they covered Bush, the same way they covered Cheney, and the same way they cover every Republican.
KWAME HOLMAN: Senator McCain, who was not on the stage at the time, later distanced himself from Cunningham's remarks.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: A person who was on the program before I spoke made some disparaging remarks about my two colleagues in the Senate, Senator Obama and Senator Clinton.
I have repeatedly stated of my respect for Senator Obama and Senator Clinton, that I will treat them with respect. I will call them "Senator." We will have a respectful debate, as I have said on hundreds of occasions.
I regret any comments that may be made about these two individuals, who are honorable Americans.KWAME HOLMAN: Ohio, along with Texas, Rhode Island and Vermont hold their primary contests a week from today.