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Campaigning Intensifies as Clinton’s ‘Firewall’ Draws Near

February 29, 2008 at 6:20 PM EST
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Hillary Clinton's campaign has staked her future in this race on the results of Texas's and Ohio's March 4 primaries. As rival Barack Obama has risen to match her in the polls in both states, both sides have intensified their efforts. Kwame Holman reports on the state of the Democratic campaign trail.
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TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: And now, the presidential race in this country. We begin with today’s campaign developments. They include extended excerpts from the candidates’ speeches on this Friday before the Tuesday contests in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont.

NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman reports.

KWAME HOLMAN: The presidential candidates barnstormed across Texas today, with just four days left before the Lone Star State’s primaries.

John McCain was in Round Rock, near Austin, for a town hall meeting with employees from computer maker Dell. One Iraq war veteran asked McCain what his plans were for helping those troops returning home with post-traumatic stress disorder.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Arizona: … that I carry around with me quite often a piece of paper that has a statement by George Washington in 1789. And it basically says the willingness of next generations to serve their country is directly related by the treatment and appreciation we’ve provided those who have served in previous conflicts.

And I thank you for your service. And I try to keep those words in mind.

Very briefly as I can, PTSD is going to be a problem and it already is. These combat-related wounds, from especially IEDs, as you well know, are going to require expansion of military medical capabilities and VA capabilities.

And we have passed legislation, but we’ve got to do a lot more. And we have to expand the capability to care for those kinds of injuries, because the VA and the military medical are best at that.

But here’s the problem, as you know — and I’ll be glad to hear your response — it’s cluttered up. The VA system is badly cluttered up now by veterans with routine health care needs.

So they go down to the VA, and they stand in line, to stand in line to get an appointment, to get an appointment. I want to, for a routine health care need, give every veteran a plastic card and say, “When you’ve got a routine health care need, you take that plastic card, you take it to the doctor or health care provider of your choice, and get it taken care of, and never again will you have to stand in line, to stand in line, to get an appointment, to get an appointment.”

KWAME HOLMAN: Barack Obama met with a roomful of veterans at an American Legion post in Houston and said he, too, would make it a priority to give care to those who served.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), Illinois: America enters into a sacred trust with every single person who puts on the uniform. That trust is simple: America will be there for you, just as you have been there for America.

Keeping that trust must always be a core American value and a cornerstone of American patriotism, because our commitment to our servicemen and women begins at enlistment and it must never end.

Iraq war policy

KWAME HOLMAN: Obama digressed at one point to address the political news of the day, namely a Hillary Clinton television ad that began airing in Texas this morning.

HILLARY CLINTON AD NARRATOR: There's a phone in the White House and it's ringing. Something's happening in the world. Your vote will decide who answers that call, whether it's someone who already knows the world's leaders, knows the military, someone tested and ready to lead in a dangerous world.

It's 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep. Who do you want answering the phone?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), New York: I'm Hillary Clinton and I approve this message.

KWAME HOLMAN: Obama dismissed the ad as an attempt to scare up votes.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: We've seen these ads before. They're usually the kind that play upon people's fears and try to scare up votes.

I don't think these ads will work this time, because the question is not about picking up the phone. The question is: What kind of judgment will you exercise when you pick up that phone?

And, in fact, we have had a red phone moment. It was the decision to invade Iraq. Senator Clinton gave the wrong answer; George Bush gave the wrong answer; John McCain gave the wrong answer.

I stood up and said that a war in Iraq would be unwise, it would cost of thousands of lives and billions of dollars. I said that it would distract us from the real threat that we face and that we should take the fight to al-Qaida in Afghanistan.

That's the judgment I made on the most important foreign policy decision of our generation, and that's the kind of judgment I intend to show when I answer the phone in the White House as president of the United States of America, the judgment to keep us safe, the judgment to keep us safe, to go after our real enemies, and to provide the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States with the equipment they need when we do send them into battle and the respect and care that they have earned when they come home.

And I will never see the threat of terrorism as a way to scare up votes because it's a threat that should rally the country around our common enemies. That is the judgment we need at 3 a.m., and that's the judgment that I'm running for as president of the United States of America.

National security experience

KWAME HOLMAN: Hillary Clinton spent her morning attending the funeral of a Dallas police officer who died in a motorcycle accident last week while escorting Clinton's motorcade to an event.

This afternoon, she held an early get-out-the-vote rally with veterans in Waco and stepped up her criticism of Obama on national security.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: I know the difficulties that our men and women in uniform face every day. And I also understand completely what it means when that phone rings at 3 a.m.

There isn't any time to convene your advisers, to do a survey about what will or will not be popular. You have to make a decision. And in the world that we face, with both the challenges and opportunities, we need a president who picks up that phone ready to decide.

Now, Senator Obama says that if we talk about national security in this campaign we're trying to scare people. Well, I don't think people in Texas scare all that easily.

The American people aren't afraid of the challenges and dangers we face in the world. They want a president with the strength and wisdom to take those challenges and dangers head-on.

Now, there's a big difference between giving speeches about national security and giving orders as commander-in-chief.

There's a big difference between delivering a speech at an anti-war rally as a state senator and picking up that phone in the White House at 3 a.m. in the morning to deal with an international crisis.

KWAME HOLMAN: The three major presidential candidates will spend the weekend shuttling back and forth between campaign events in Texas and Ohio, the other big state holding a primary on Tuesday.