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With a week to go until a pivotal vote in the two states on March 4, the Democratic race took on an increasingly negative tone. After losing 11 straight contests to Obama, Clinton needs big victories in both states to salvage her campaign to be the Democratic nominee in the November election.
The Obama campaign accused the Clinton camp of "the most shameful, offensive fear-mongering" when a photograph of the Illinois senator, dressed as a Somali elder with white headdress and matching robe, turned up on the website of the Drudge Report.
"I think the American people are saddened when they see these kind of politics," Obama told WOAI radio in San Antonio.
The Drudge Report said the photo was taken in 2006 during Obama's visit to northeastern Kenya. The Democratic front-runner has fought a whispering campaign from fringe elements that say erroneously he is a Muslim.
The website said in an accompanying article the photo had been circulated by Clinton campaign staffers. The Clinton campaign said it had not sanctioned the photo's release but that with 700 staffers it could not be known whether someone had sent it out unofficially.
"If Barack Obama's campaign wants to suggest that a photo of him wearing traditional Somali clothing is divisive, they should be ashamed. Hillary Clinton has worn the traditional clothing of countries she has visited and had those photos published widely," said Clinton campaign manager Maggie Williams.
In a foreign policy speech, Clinton said Obama had veered between pledging to meet leaders of hostile nations like Iran and Cuba if elected in November to warning of US military action against Al Qaeda targets in Pakistan.
"He wavers from seeming to believe that mediation and meetings without preconditions can solve the world's intractable problems, to advocating rash, unilateral military action without cooperation from our allies in the most sensitive region of the world," Clinton said.
FRIENDS AND ENEMIES
At a rally in Cincinnati, Obama reiterated his pledge to meet hostile foreign leaders if elected.
"We need to rediscover the power of diplomacy. So I said very early on in this campaign that I will meet not just with our friends but with our enemies, not just the leaders I like, but leaders I don't," he said.
A Quinnipiac University poll said Clinton led Obama in Ohio by 51 per cent to 40 percent among likely Democratic voters.
That was a narrowing from the lead of 55 per cent to 34 per cent she held less than two weeks ago, and was a sign that Obama's momentum was paying dividends in Ohio.
A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll said Obama had edged ahead of Clinton in Texas, 50 per cent to 46 per cent, after having been behind her narrowly last week.
While Obama has a strong lead among Democratic voters on his ability to unite and inspire the country, Clinton is still viewed by more Democrats as better prepared for the job of president, according to a national New York Times/CBS poll.
When asked to look ahead to the general election, likely Republican nominee John McCain, is seen as better prepared for the presidency and to be commander-in-chief than either of the Democrats, the poll found.
McCain, a staunch supporter of the Iraq war, retracted an earlier statement that he would lose the November election if he did not convince Americans that the US military was succeeding in Iraq.
"I don't mean that I'll, quote, lose," McCain told reporters on his campaign bus. He said what he meant is that it is an important issue for American voters.
"We will succeed in Iraq and the Iraqis will take over their responsibilities. Americans will withdraw. But Americans may have, as they have in so many other countries, a security arrangement far into the future," he said.
The Arizona senator, a former Navy aviator who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, has said that withdrawing from Iraq prematurely would amount to surrender and give Islamic extremists a propaganda victory.
Clinton and Obama both advocate withdrawing US troops if they are elected president.
Clinton, after a fairly civil debate with Obama last Thursday in Texas during which she said she was honored to share the stage with him, has toughened her message in the past few days, ahead of next week's critical nominating contests. (Reuters)
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