Battle of the negatives

Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton accused each other on Saturday of waging negative campaigns as they sped across Pennsylvania before next week’s potentially make-or-break primary election.

Obama, an Illinois senator who is the party’s national front-runner but trails in Pennsylvania, hopes an upset on Tuesday will hand him the Democratic nomination and knock Clinton out of the race for the right to face Republican John McCain in the November election.

After a week that included a contentious television debate that focused on issues such as his controversial former pastor and recent relationship with a 1960s radical, Obama pounded on the New York senator at various stops throughout the day for using negative tactics and changing positions on key issues.

“What’s happened is that Senator Clinton has internalized a lot of the strategies, the tactics that have made Washington such a miserable place where all we do is bicker and all we do is fight,” he told a rally in Paoli, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia.

He described the former first lady’s tactics as: “We’re going to throw whatever we want at Barack, whether it’s true, whether it’s false, whether it’s exaggerated, whether it’s relevant, because that’s, according to Senator Clinton, what the Republicans will do.”

The Clinton campaign returned fire, saying an Obama ad deliberately misrepresented her health care policy and taking umbrage at comments by a U.S. general and Obama supporter who said Clinton lacked the “moral authority” to lay a wreath on a soldier’s grave.

“He always says in his speeches that he’s running a positive campaign, but then his campaign does the opposite,” Clinton told a rally in the town of California in southwestern Pennsylvania, referring to Obama.


Clinton has seen her sizable advantage over the Illinois senator in Pennsylvania dwindle to a single-digit lead, but a Gallup daily tracking poll released on Saturday gave her a slight edge among Democrats nationwide — putting her ahead of her rival in that ranking for the first time since mid-March.

Both candidates crisscrossed the state ahead of Tuesday’s primary, the first nominating contest in several weeks. Clinton traveled by bus and plane to some five rallies statewide, while Obama rode a train for a “whistle-stop” tour of four cities.

In Wynnewood, a suburb of Philadelphia, he sharpened his tone against Clinton, accusing her of changing positions on major issues, including the war in Iraq.

“She’s taken different positions on different issues as fundamental as trade, even the war, to suit the politics of the moment, and when she gets caught at it, the notion is, ‘Well you know what, that’s just politics,”‘ he said.

Later in Paoli he said: “She also believes that the nature of politics is, you say what the people want to hear. Maybe you say one thing about the war when it looks like the war is popular. Maybe you say something different when the war gets to be unpopular.”

Clinton advisers said Obama was using negative tactics himself. Seeking to play down expectations of a big Clinton victory once polls close at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, advisers said they expected a narrow win and said if Obama loses, it would not bode well for a general election if he were the nominee.

“If Sen. Obama is unable to win here with his enormous spending advantage … it will again demonstrate that he has a big problem winning in the large swing states that a Democrat needs to win in order to become president,” Communications Director Howard Wolfson told a conference call with reporters.