The campaigns of the two Democratic presidential hopefuls traded fresh assaults Saturday, with a Barack Obama advisor assailing comments by ex-president Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton’s camp lashing back over alleged character attacks.
Especially controversial were remarks by Obama advisor Merrill McPeak, who likened comments by ex-president Clinton to the actions of communist-hunting 1950s senator Joseph McCarthy.
The most expensive US presidential campaign on record carries on in full throttle as the two Democrats gear up for a dogfight ahead of next month’s crucial primary clash in the state of Pennsylvania. The party nominee will battle Republican John McCain in the November election.
Former president Clinton found him at the center of the latest row for comments to military veterans on Friday in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“I think it would be a great thing if we had an election year where you had two people who loved this country and were devoted to the interest of this country,” he told a group of veterans.
“And people could actually ask themselves who is right on these issues, instead of all this other stuff that always seems to intrude itself on our politics.”
Clinton was apparently referring to his wife and McCain, leaving Obama out in the cold.
The exclusion led Obama advisor McPeak, a retired air force general, to raise the McCarthy specter.
“As one who for 37 years proudly wore the uniform of our country, I’m saddened to see a president employ these kind of tactics,” McPeak told Obama supporters in Medford, Oregon on Saturday.
“He of all people should know better because he was the target of exactly the same kind of tactic when he first ran 16 years ago,” he said, with Obama at his side.
McPeak apparently referred to attacks Bill Clinton sustained in the 1992 campaign from then-president George H.W. Bush, who had raised questions about a trip Clinton took to Moscow in 1970 during the Vietnam war.
McPeak criticism was blunt on Friday. “It sounds more like McCarthy,” he said, according to television reports.
“I grew up, I was going to college when Joe McCarthy was accusing good Americans of being traitors, so I’ve had enough of it.”
Hillary Clinton’s campaign swiftly denounced McPeak’s comments as “a pathetic misreading” of the president’s remarks.
“Comparing Bill Clinton to Joseph McCarthy is an outrage and ought to be retracted,” Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson said.
Clinton’s campaign further railed on the Obama camp for an “unremitting assault on her credibility and character,” stressing that he has been ratcheting up attacks on her to detract from incendiary statements made by his Chicago-based pastor.
“They are throwing as many bombs as possible because they are intent on deflecting attention from their political problems” of recent weeks, Clinton spokesman Phil Singer told reporters.
An Obama spokesman, Bill Burton, dismissed the rival accusations as “reiterating tired lines of attack with no basis in reality.”
Obama’s campaign regained momentum Friday with an endorsement from the country’s only Hispanic governor, New Mexico’s Bill Richardson.
He has also re-taken the lead in the latest Gallup poll, showing 48 percent of voters favoring Obama and 45 percent favoring Clinton.
The mud-slinging came as campaign filings showed Obama building a substantial financial edge over Clinton.
Obama’s fundraising juggernaut, figures show, out-earned and outspent Clinton’s campaign in February, and finished the month with significantly more cash in hand as the pair rev up for 10 more nominating clashes.
The latest monthly financial reports to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) show Obama raking in 55 million dollars in contributions in February, with minimal debt.
New York Senator Clinton raised 35 million in February, but has outside debts of 3.7 million — not including the five million dollars of her own money she lent her campaign in January when it was in trouble.
Obama, senator from Illinois, had nearly 39 million dollars on hand at the end of February, compared with 33 million for Clinton.
However Clinton’s campaign acknowledged that two-thirds of the total is restricted to use in the general election campaign, leaving just 11 million dollars usable for the primaries.
Estimates show Obama leading the former first lady in nominating delegates 1,628 to 1,493. But Clinton, who also trails in the popular vote, hopes to build a case for her candidacy with a triumph in the April 22 primary in delegate-rich Pennsylvania, where she has leads in opinion polls.
Neither candidate has won the 2,025 delegates needed to secure the nomination.