Hillary Rodham Clinton ripped into Barack Obama more forcefully than she has before while campaigning Saturday in Ohio ahead of next month’s primary in the Midwestern industrial state that could determine the fate of her presidential bid.
After losing 11 straight primaries and caucuses to Obama since they battled to a split decision in 22 contests on February 5, Super Tuesday, the former first lady is banking on a strong showing in both Ohio and Texas on March 4 to save her fading candidacy.
On the Republican side, John McCain inched closer to clinching the party’s presidential nomination by picking up nine more delegates Saturday at a Republican convention in Saipan in the US Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas in the Pacific.
Clinton spoke to reporters after an early morning rally at Cincinnati Technical College, one of several events she has held across Ohio this week. Obama was also campaigning in Ohio on Saturday.
The New York senator and former first lady said that a pair of mailings sent by the Obama campaign to Ohio voters criticising her health care plan and trade views are false, misleading and a betrayal of his pledge to practice a new style of politics.
“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,” Clinton said angrily, waving in the air the Obama campaign mailings.
“Meet me in Ohio, and let’s have a debate about your tactics,” she added.
The two candidates will meet in a televised debate in Cleveland Tuesday.
With so much on the line and the clock ticking, Clinton ripped into Obama much more directly than she has in the past.
She compared Obama to President George W. Bush during the rally, suggesting the country had already taken a gamble on an inexperienced candidate who promised change.
“People talk a lot about change. We have lived through some of the worst change that anyone could imagine the last seven years,” she said to loud applause. “People thought we were getting a compassionate conservative, didn’t they? It turned out he was neither. We have lived with the consequences of those mistakes.”
But the New York senator saved her toughest words for Obama’s mailings, saying she refused to see the campaign “polluted” by such tactics.
“Enough about the speeches, and the big rallies, and then using tactics right out of (former Bush political adviser) Karl Rove’s playbook. This is wrong and every Democrat should be outraged,” Clinton said.
Clinton’s advisers have repeatedly criticised the Obama campaign’s health care mailing, which says her plan for universal coverage would “force” everyone to purchase insurance even if they cannot afford it. Her plan requires everyone to be covered, but it offers tax credits and other subsidies to make insurance more affordable.
Obama’s plan does not include the so-called “individual mandate” for adults, and he has argued that people cannot be required to buy coverage if they cannot afford it. He has said his first priority is bringing down costs.
The Illinois senator’s plan does include a mandate requiring parents to buy health insurance to cover children.
Obama said Saturday that both he and Clinton had “good plans” for health care reform, but that he would be more effective in implementing changes to a “broken” system because he could rally more support. He noted that Clinton had already tried and failed to introduce a major health care overhaul when her husband was president.
“Fixing the health care system is going to be my top domestic priority,” Obama told a meeting with health care professionals in Columbus, Ohio.
Clinton also criticised an Obama mailing on the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. It quotes a 2006 Newsday article suggesting Clinton believed the agreement had been a “boon” to the economy. NAFTA and other trade agreements are extremely unpopular in Ohio, which has suffered an exodus of manufacturing jobs to other countries in part due to such agreements.
It is a particularly sensitive matter for Clinton, whose husband championed and passed the agreement as president. She is counting on the support of white, working class voters in Ohio.
“I am fighting to change NAFTA,” she insisted. “Neither of us were in the Senate when NAFTA passed. Neither voted one way or the other.”
Clinton said Newsday had corrected the record about her views on the agreement. Indeed, the paper published a blog item earlier this month saying Obama’s use of the word “boon” was unfair.
“Obama’s use of the citation in this way does strike us as misleading. The quote marks make it look as if Hillary said “boon”, not us. It’s an example of the kind of slim reeds campaigns use to try to win an office.”
Earlier, Newsday published an item saying the word “boon” had been their “characterisation of how we best understood her position on NAFTA, based on a review of past stories and her public statements.”
As evidence of their concern about the issue, the Clinton campaign released two new ads in Ohio, including one featuring John Glenn - a former astronaut and US senator from Ohio for 24 years - saying Clinton would fix trade agreements like NAFTA.
Obama spokesman Bill Burton said the campaign stood by the accuracy of the mailings.
“We look forward to having a debate this Tuesday on the facts, and the facts are that Senator Clinton was a supporter of NAFTA and the China permanent trade treaties until this campaign began,” he said. “And she herself has said that under the Clinton health care plan, she would consider ‘going after the wages’ of Americans.”
In the overall race for the Democratic nomination, Obama leads with 1,362 delegates. Clinton has 1,266.5, getting the half-delegate from the Democrats Abroad primary. It will take 2,025 delegates to secure the Democratic nomination at the party’s convention in Denver this summer.
Clinton added that she felt good about her prospects in Ohio and Texas but refused to say whether she needed to win both states to stay in the race.
“Let’s let the people of Ohio vote. Let’s actually have an election and then we can look at the results,” she said.
With the Republican race considered settled, McCain, the veteran Arizona senator and former Vietnam prisoner of war, was not actively campaigning Saturday but he planned to give an evening speech to the winter meeting of US state governors in Washington. His last main rival, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee planned to appear on the television comedy show Saturday Night Live.
The delegates from the Northern Marianas gave McCain a total of 967 delegates. Huckabee is far behind with 254 delegates - two less than former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has quit the race and endorsed McCain.
He could gain more delegates later Saturday when American Samoa, across the international dateline from Saipan, chooses most of its nine Republican delegates.
It takes 1,191 delegates to secure the Republican nomination at the party’s convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota in early September. (AP)
Angry Clinton rips Obama as Ohio primary campaign intensifies