Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton faced some of the harshest criticism yet from Barack Obama, her rival for the party’s nomination, who accused her of having no restraint and using tactics typical of Republicans.
The New York senator, who trails rival Obama by 10 percentage points nationally in the latest Gallup Poll tracking survey, meanwhile sought to cement working-class votes in the looming Pennsylvania primary by saying Monday that her husband was wrong to push through a free trade deal with Canada and Mexico. She vowed to change or walk away from the pact that many Americans hold responsible for a loss of US jobs.
Obama made his comments at an Associated Press annual meeting following a question about whether the long nomination battle was hurting the Democratic party’s chances at the White House.
“I have tried to figure out how to show restraint and make sure that during this primary contest we were not damaging each other,” he said.
Clinton “may not feel that she can afford to be so constrained,” he said, adding at one point that she’s “been deploying most of the arguments that the Republicans will be using against me in November.”
Obama has sustained a weekend of criticism stemming from his comment that some small-town voters are bitter over their economic circumstances and “cling to guns and religion” as a result.
Earlier, he also questioned Clinton’s truthfulness about opposing free trade agreements in a speech before the Alliance for American Manufacturing in Pittsburgh, once one of America’s steel-making hubs. Both candidates made separate appearances at the gathering in the western Pennsylvania city.
They are angling for the endorsement of the influential United Steelworkers union, which backed Democrat John Edwards before he dropped out of the race. Steelworkers president Leo Gerard introduced Obama to the crowd, saying, “We’re tired, we’re frustrated, we’re angry and we need somebody who’s going to stand up for fair trade.”
When challenged from the audience about Bill Clinton’s support for the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, candidate Clinton responded: “Well, you know, as smart as my husband is, he does make mistakes.”
The Democratic hopefuls are in the midst of their most bitter state primary campaign, bashing each other with just a week left before the April 22 vote in the largest state still to decide which candidate should face Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee.
In the afternoon session of the AP meeting, Obama again said he regretted that his statements were misunderstood but refused to “walk away from the larger point I was trying to make” about the distress felt by workers who have lost their jobs and way of life to free trade and globalization.
“I may have made a mistake last week in the word that I chose, but the other party has made a much more damaging mistake in the failed policies they’ve chosen and the bankrupt philosophy they’ve embraced for the last three decades ...” Obama said.
“This philosophy isn’t just out of touch, it’s put our economy out of whack.”
He did not mention Clinton but took on McCain, saying he could understand the Republican’s desire “to talk about something else” rather than “carry the banner for eight years” of the administration of US President George W. Bush.
“He’s had a front-row seat to the last eight years of disastrous policies that have widened the income gap and challenged our children with debt,” Obama said. “And now he’s promising four more years of the very same thing.”
Obama spoke at the meeting a few hours after McCain made a less combative appearance of his own.
The Arizona senator announced support for legislation to protect the confidentiality of news sources, although he also challenged the news media to acknowledge its errors “beyond the small print on a corrections page.”
McCain repeatedly declined to label Obama an elitist for the comments that have roiled the race for the White House in recent days, but he joined Clinton in criticizing Obama.
“I would like to respond briefly to the comments one of my opponents made the other day about the psychology and political mind-set of Americans living in small towns and other areas that have experienced the loss of industrial jobs.”
The Arizona senator looked back to members of the 1930s Depression-era generation in the United States and said: “Their [religious] faith had given generations of their families purpose and meaning, as it does today. And their appreciation of traditions like hunting was based in nothing other than their contribution to the enjoyment of life.”
According to the latest AP tally, Obama leads Clinton in the convention delegate count 1,639-1,503, including superdelegates - party elders and elected officials who can vote for whichever candidate they chose, regardless of the popular vote in state primaries and caucuses.
Neither candidate will be able to clinch the 2,025 delegates needed to win the nomination without the approval of superdelegates. (AP)
Obama accuses Clinton of lack of restraint