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Angry Clinton jabs at Obama

Times Staff Writers

In a move to salvage her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Rodham Clinton adopted a newly bellicose tone toward rival Barack Obama on Saturday, saying he was making false and shameful attacks on her record.

The New York senator mocked Obama’s speaking skills and his power to draw tens of thousands of supporters to rallies that have dwarfed her more modest events. Clinton scolded Obama for two campaign mailings that she described as distortions of her positions on healthcare and trade.

“Enough with the speeches and the big rallies, and then using tactics right out of Karl Rove’s playbook,” she said, alluding to President Bush’s chief political advisor. “This is wrong, and every Democrat should be outraged.”

Clinton’s rhetorical blasts came 10 days before contests in Ohio and Texas that could doom her candidacy after a streak of 11 defeats. The losses have battered her campaign as much as they have buoyed her rival’s.

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Clinton made her remarks to a cluster of reporters as the crowd dispersed from a rally at an Ohio college gymnasium. Waving the mailings and raising her voice, Clinton accused the Illinois senator of “perpetuating falsehoods.”

Obama declined to match Clinton’s anger in his response at a campaign stop in Columbus.

His mailings were accurate and had circulated for weeks, he said. “So I’m puzzled by the sudden change in tone. Unless these were just brought to her attention, it makes me think that there’s something tactical about her getting so exercised this morning.”

For the most part, Obama looked past Clinton on Saturday, turning his focus to John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, and criticism of the Arizona senator’s healthcare agenda and ties with lobbyists.

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For Clinton supporters, Obama’s string of victories has prompted growing concern.

“I’m not real hopeful,” hospital worker Linda Grant, 60, said after cheering Clinton at a boisterous Friday night rally in a Toledo school gymnasium. Grant’s angst reflected the gloom surrounding Clinton’s campaign as she approaches the March 4 contests that her advisors long assumed would be afterthoughts to her crowning as Democratic nominee.

Shuttling between Texas and Ohio, Clinton has been traveling at a pace more typical for the final weeks before a general election. Her campaign swings often start at dawn and extend beyond midnight.

On Saturday, she traveled from Cincinnati to another rally on the outskirts of Dayton, then flew to a conference of African Americans in New Orleans. After an evening stop in Houston, she planned to return to Washington.

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Her recent rallies have attracted as many as several thousand. But over the last week, Obama has drawn an estimated 15,000 in Dallas, 18,000 in Houston and 20,000 in Austin.

At the Dallas rally Wednesday, he was introduced as “the one man with the integrity of President Kennedy . . . the morals of Dr. Martin Luther King, the virtues of Cesar Chavez.” The crowd even cheered when he blew his nose mid-speech.

Clinton, who has fallen well behind Obama in fundraising, faces an uphill battle to overcome his lead in delegates to the party’s national convention.

Her negative turn on Saturday came amid discord among her advisors on a strategy to revive her candidacy.

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Tad Devine, a Democratic strategist not aligned in the presidential race, said the tug of war shows in her latest shift. “It’s very hard to deliver a message when the tone changes day to day,” he said. The likelihood of a Clinton recovery is “very low,” he said.

Clinton has tried to sully Obama before. She ran TV attack ads before the Wisconsin primary last Tuesday, but failed to avert a lopsided defeat.

In Cincinnati on Saturday, Clinton stepped up efforts to define Obama as a gifted speaker with a thin resume.

“That is not the new politics that the speeches are about,” Clinton said of the mailings. “It is not hopeful. It is destructive, particularly for a Democrat.”

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One of the mailings says that Clinton’s healthcare plan would force Americans to buy healthcare coverage even if they could not afford it.

“Just because Sen. Obama chose not to present a universal healthcare plan does not give him the right to attack me because I did” propose one, Clinton said. She said Obama’s mailing echoed the positions espoused by insurance and drug companies, giving “aid and comfort” to them and their Republican allies.

“So shame on you, Barack Obama,” she said. “It is time you ran a campaign consistent with your messages in public. That’s what I expect from you. Meet me in Ohio. Let’s have a debate about your tactics.”

Clinton and Obama are scheduled to debate Tuesday night in Cleveland.

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Obama jabbed back Saturday night at a raucous rally in Akron, where an estimated 5,000 braved the cold to hear him speak. But he did not approach his rival in volume or intensity.

“The truth is that Sen. Clinton does have a universal healthcare plan,” he said evenly. “And so do I. The difference is she has what she calls a mandate, and I don’t. . . . It’s not a mandate that government give you insurance. It’s government mandating that you buy insurance.”

The other Obama mailing describes Clinton as a champion of the North American Free Trade Agreement approved by her husband, former President Clinton. It says that she “was not with Ohio when our jobs were on the line.” Clinton said she had criticized the pact for years and had a four-point plan to fix it.

Countered Obama in Akron: “Sen. Clinton supported NAFTA before she ran for president. She called it a victory in her book. . . . You can’t be for something or take credit for an administration and 35 years of experience and then when you run for president suggest somehow that you didn’t really mean what you said back then.”

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Clinton also released new TV ads Saturday.

None was as hard-hitting as her remarks in Cincinnati, but one took an implicit poke at Obama. “In Texas, when there’s work to be done, talk doesn’t cut it,” an announcer says in the spot.

Another ad features Clinton’s closing remarks in the candidates’ Texas debate last Thursday. It shows her saying that “the hits I’ve taken in life are nothing compared to what goes on every single day in the lives of people across our country.” Clinton strategist Mark Penn described that part of the debate as a “real moment of emotional connection” between her and voters.

Others have wondered whether Clinton’s body language during other parts of the debate suggested that she was losing hope.

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On Friday, CBS newsman Harry Smith told Clinton that he “saw some of the fight leave your body.”

“Probably what you saw,” Clinton responded, “was, you know, lack of sleep, which finally does catch up to you with all of the cross-country traveling we’re doing.”

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michael.finnegan@ latimes.com

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maria.laganga@latimes.com

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Finnegan reported from Cincinnati, La Ganga from Columbus.


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