Barack Obama accused rival Hillary Rodham Clinton Monday of trying to "hoodwink" and "bamboozle" voters into thinking that she was the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination by hinting that he could take the second slot on her ticket.
The New York senator and her husband, former President Clinton, both suggested in recent days that Obama, a first-term senator from Illinois, was not seasoned enough to be president but might make a good vice presidential candidate on a ticket topped by Clinton.
Obama, at a rally in Columbus, Miss., on the eve of Mississippi's primary today, rejected the "gamesmanship" of Clinton casting herself as the top Democrat. Though he did not rule out the No. 2 post, Obama emphasized that he is aiming for the presidency.
"First of all, with all due respect, I've won twice as many states as Sen. Clinton, I've won more of the popular vote than Sen. Clinton, I have more delegates than Sen. Clinton," he told a cheering crowd of about 1,700. "So I don't know how somebody who is in second place is offering the vice presidency to the person who's in first place."
Calling Clinton's tactics an attempt "to bamboozle you, to hoodwink you," Obama said voters had to make a choice.
"I want everybody to be absolutely clear," he said. "I don't want anybody here thinking that somehow, 'Well, you know, maybe I can get both.' Don't think that way. You have to make a choice in this election."
Obama said: "I am not running for vice president. I am running for president of the United States of America."
Obama is favored to win in Mississippi, where 37% of the Democratic electorate is African American. Thirty-three pledged delegates are at stake. But the Clinton campaign is working to keep Obama him from scoring a landslide.
Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea stumped in Mississippi over the weekend, and Hillary Clinton campaigned there last week. On Monday, the New York senator stumped in the next big state on the calendar -- Pennsylvania, where 158 pledged delegates are at stake in its April 22 primary.
According to the Associated Press, Obama leads Clinton in delegates 1,579 to 1,473. To capture the nomination, a candidate needs 2,025.
During a campaign stop in Scranton, Pa., Clinton appeared to retreat from the suggestion of a Clinton-Obama ticket, saying it was "preliminary" to discuss the selection of a vice president.
"A lot of Democrats like us both and have been very hopeful that they wouldn't have to make a choice, but obviously Democrats have to make a choice, and I'm looking forward to getting the nomination," she said.
Amid the hard-fought race, leading Democrats continue to weigh the idea of "do-over" elections for Michigan and Florida.
The two states violated Democratic National Committee rules by holding early primaries, and candidates avoided campaigning there. But given the closeness of the race, interest has grown in holding new Michigan and Florida nominating contests.
Two Democratic governors who support Clinton -- Jon Corzine of New Jersey and Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania -- have said that they stand ready to raise half of the estimated $30 million needed for new Florida and Michigan contests. DNC Chairman Howard Dean and others called for less expensive mail-in voting.
On the Republican side, Arizona Sen. John McCain, his party's presumptive nominee for president, embarked Monday on a weeklong fundraising tour.
McCain, who clinched the race for the GOP nomination in the March 4 primaries, held a fundraiser Monday at the Hilton St. Louis Frontenac, where tickets cost $1,000 for the reception, or $2,300 for the reception plus a photo opportunity with the candidate.
McCain then moves across the country corralling cash from the party faithful all week long with stops today in New York City, Wednesday in Boston, Thursday in Philadelphia and Friday in Chicago.
The McCain campaign, trying to catch up with the Democrats in fundraising, said it planned 20 to 30 fundraising events a month.
According to the candidates' latest government filings, as of Jan. 31 Obama has brought in $138.2 million in contributions, versus Clinton's $134.5 million and McCain's $53.7 million. The Obama campaign said it raised $55 million in February, versus $35 million for Clinton. McCain has not disclosed his February fundraising total.
The McCain campaign is planning a trip next week to the Middle East, including Iraq, to highlight the senator's foreign policy experience.
The campaign also plans a "bio tour" next month in which the Arizona senator is to highlight places important to his life story, including the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, where he graduated before serving as a Navy pilot in Vietnam.
Times wire services contributed to this story.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times