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Clinton, Obama Exchange Attacks on Campaign Tactics

February 25, 2008 at 6:30 PM EST
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Presidential hopefuls Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Barack Obama, D-Ill. condemned each other's use of negative campaigning on the trail this weekend. Ohio voters received fliers attacking Clinton's trade and health plans, while a photo showing Obama in traditional Somali dress circulated the Internet.
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JIM LEHRER: Next, charges and counter charges in the U.S. presidential campaign. NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman reports.

KWAME HOLMAN: At George Washington University this morning, during what her campaign billed as a major foreign policy speech, Hillary Clinton argued she was best qualified to be commander-in-chief, not Barack Obama, not John McCain.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), New York: Senator McCain can’t seem to budge from the Bush approach that insists on using military force when diplomacy is needed. He has said he wants to keep our troops in Iraq; it would be fine with him for 50 to 100 years.

Senator Obama, meanwhile, represents another choice. He waivers from seeming to believe that mediation and meetings without preconditions can solve some of the world’s most intractable problems to advocating rash, unilateral military action without cooperation from our allies in the most sensitive region of the world.

Electing a president should not be an either/or proposition when it comes to national security. We need a president who knows how to deploy both the olive branch and the arrows.

KWAME HOLMAN: Mrs. Clinton’s tone was noticeably sharper in Cincinnati on Saturday, angrily reacting to some Obama campaign literature mailed to Ohio voters.

One mailer points to Clinton’s early support for the North American Free Trade Agreement, which critics claim has siphoned thousands of jobs to Mexico. Another attacks her health care plan, charging it would penalize individuals who can’t afford to buy insurance.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Enough with the speeches and the big rallies and then using tactics that are right out of Karl Rove’s playbook. This is wrong.

And every Democrat should be outraged, because this is the kind of attack that not only undermines core Democratic values, but gives aid and comfort to the very special interests and their allies in the Republican Party who are against doing what we want to do for America.

So shame on you, Barack Obama. It is time you ran a campaign consistent with your messages in public. That’s what I expect from you. Meet me in Ohio. Let’s have a debate about your tactics…

Obama questions Clinton's motives

KWAME HOLMAN: In Columbus, Ohio, Obama wondered what prompted Clinton's outrage.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), Illinois: In terms of the two mailers that she specifically referred to here, these are mailers that, by the way, started going out several days ago, if not weeks ago.

So I'm puzzled by the sudden change in tone, unless these were just brought to her attention. It makes me think that there's something tactical about her getting so exercised this morning.

And unlike some of the attacks that have been leveled about me that have been debunked by news organizations, these are accurate.

KWAME HOLMAN: At a rally in Cincinnati this afternoon, Obama reminded supporters of his opposition to NAFTA without drawing comparisons to Mrs. Clinton.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: We're going to have a trade system that is free and fair. See, I believe in trade. I believe all countries can prosper from globalization. But not if our trade agreements don't have strong labor standards, strong environmental standards, so that U.S. workers aren't being undermined.

NAFTA didn't have those things, and that's why I opposed NAFTA, safety standards so our children aren't chewing on toys with lead paint and patients aren't taking medicines made overseas that actually make them worse.

We're going to change our trade agreements so that they reflect the interests not just of Wall Street, but also of Main Street.

KWAME HOLMAN: However, the sparring between the campaigns continued without the candidates today over a photo that turned up on the online Drudge Report showing Obama in 2006 dressed in traditional Somali garb.

The Obama campaign accused Clinton's campaign staff of planting the photo and of engaging "in the most shameful, offensive fear-mongering we've seen from either party in this election."

The Clinton campaign insisted it did not know the source of the photo, but argued the Obama response was an "attempt to create the very divisions they claim to decry."

Meanwhile, following a rally outside of Cleveland this morning, Republican John McCain still was answering questions about last week's New York Times story about his relationship with a female communications lobbyist.

Follow-up stories this weekend raised new questions about a letter McCain wrote to the Federal Communications Commission on behalf of one of the lobbyist's clients.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Arizona: The letter I wrote said, "Do not make any decision either way for either person or either party." I said, "I am not asking you to say anything favorably or unfavorably."

That's the key to it. The key to it is that I said, "Just make a judgment."

My job as chairman of the Commerce Committee is to oversight the bureaucracies of Washington. And if there's some inordinate delays of some 800 days, then it's entirely appropriate to ask a bureaucracy to function. That's the oversight responsibilities.

I'm proud to have led on campaign finance reform, on ethics reform, never taking a single earmark project in the 24 years I've been in Congress. I am proud of my record of reform, of reform, that I have sought and fought for and change and achieved to a large degree.

KWAME HOLMAN: Mike Huckabee, who has refused to be drawn into the McCain lobbyist story, campaigned today in Rhode Island.