Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton outlined an aggressive 100-day presidential agenda on Tuesday and Sen. Barack Obama promised to “play offense for working Americans,” both rivals observing something of a lull in an increasingly personal Democratic nomination struggle.
One week before the Pennsylvania primary, Clinton was jolted with a fresh reminder that party elders have no appetite for a campaign that drags into the convention in late August. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said the candidate who trails in the delegate chase should quit by June 3. “Probably sooner,” he told The Associated Press in an interview.
The former first lady currently trails Obama by 136 delegates in the AP count, and the odds are poor that she will be able to overtake Obama by the time the primaries end on the first Tuesday in June.
Clinton became the third of the three remaining presidential hopefuls to appear before newspaper editors at their convention, following appearances by Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain on Monday.
She accused Bush of having expanded executive power to the detriment of the Constitution, while often operating in secrecy.
“I’ll end the use of signing statements to rewrite the laws Congress has passed. I’ll shut down Guantanamo, disavow torture, and restore the right of habeas corpus,” she said.
“And I’ll end the practice of using executive privilege as a shield against the public’s right to know and Congress’s duty to oversee the president.”
Clinton’s 100-day agenda included the start of a troop withdrawal from Iraq and submitting a budget to Congress that rolls back some of Bush’s tax cuts. She also promised to sign bills he has vetoed to expand federal embryonic stem-cell research and broaden government-supported health care to millions of lower-income children who now go without.
“In short, starting from Day One, the Bush-Cheney era will be over in name and in practice,” she said at a meeting of the Newspaper Association of America.
For his part, Obama promised a union audience he would reverse a decision by Bush that effectively lowered wages for construction crews on government projects, and he mocked McCain in the process.
“He seems to think Davis-Bacon is something that comes from a pig farm,” Obama said, referring to the law that covers wages on government construction projects.
Like Clinton, Obama said he was ready to move away from Bush’s policies.
“We’re ready to play offense for the minimum wage. We’re ready to play offense for retirement security,” he said.
In tone and substance, the two speeches marked a change in the campaign rhetoric that has held sway since the weekend, when a furor erupted over Obama’s remark that residents of small towns cling to religion and guns out of bitterness over their economic plight.
Clinton and her campaign surrogates have criticized him virtually nonstop in the days since, suggesting he is an elitist who would lead the party to defeat this fall.
For his part, Obama has struggled to overcome the fallout from the worst gaffe of his 15-month campaign for the White House, and on Sunday, accused Clinton in turn of posing as a supporter of gun rights despite her longtime record in favor of gun control.
If the personal rhetoric was tempered, the Clinton campaign signaled it was not ready to let go of the issue.
Late Monday, aides unveiled a new television commercial that they said will run in Pennsylvania. It features several unidentified younger men and women criticizing Obama for his remarks. “It just shows how out of touch Barack Obama is,” says one man.
Obama countered with an ad of his own. It asserts that voters are rejecting Clinton’s attacks, and shows him saying, “When we get past the politics of division and distraction and we start actually focusing on what we have in common, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish.”
Frank’s comments were the latest in a string of signals from party officials who are eager for the nominating campaign to end so the party can unify for the fall campaign against McCain. If anything, his remarks carried extra weight because of his long-standing support for Clinton and his status as a superdelegate.
In recent weeks, party officials who are neutral have called for a reasonably quick end to the campaign.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has said he hopes a winner will emerge quickly after the final primaries, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said she does not believe the nearly 800 superdelegates should overturn the verdict of the voters.
Once the prohibitive front-runner, Clinton’s hopes of winning the nomination now rest on her ability to finish the primary season with a series of strong victories, beginning next week in Pennsylvania.
She then must persuade enough superdelegates — party officials who are not picked by the voters — that she is a more electable candidate than Obama, and overtake him in the weeks immediately after the primary season ends on June 3 in Montana and South Dakota.
So far, despite the furor over his remarks, Obama has not lost the public support of any previously committed superdelegate.