Clinton, Obama spar over who’s stronger in the general election

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Far from the snows of Maine and its Sunday caucuses, the two Democratic presidential rivals looked toward Tuesday’s Potomac primaries in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, where 242 delegates are at stake, warring over who would make the stronger opponent against Sen. John McCain, the presumptive GOP nominee.

At a rally in Alexandria, Va., Illinois Sen. Barack Obama called Clinton a “vast improvement” on the incumbent, but added that it was difficult for Clinton “to break out of the politics of the past 15 years.” He pledged to form a “working majority” with independents and Republicans both to win the White House and break the partisan divide that has left Washington in gridlock.

A woman from Hawaii whose husband was voting for Clinton asked Obama to defend his candidacy. He said, “The day I’m inaugurated, the country looks at itself differently. . . . Your husband sees somebody different as president. . . . He looks at 44 [the 44th U.S. president] and thinks, that guy’s got a funny name like me.” The prospect of the nation’s first African American president, he said, “also changes perceptions overseas.”


New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, campaigning in Manassas, Va., said that if elected, she, like Harry Truman, could handle the pressures that the next occupant of the Oval Office will inherit from President Bush.

“I had a historian tell me the other day that it’s probably not been since Harry Truman that we had a president who inherits two wars, an economy in trouble, millions of people losing their healthcare, millions of families on the brink of losing their homes,” she said.

Calling the presidency “the hardest job in the world,” Clinton said she is best suited to confront McCain because of her experience in foreign policy. “Republicans will do everything in their power to make this election about national security and homeland security,” she said.

Clinton did not acknowledge or comment on Saturday’s primary and caucus losses, but she borrowed a line from her husband’s presidency, saying that if elected she would get up every morning in the White House and go to work for the public.

The two candidates continued their disagreement Sunday night on CBS’s “60 Minutes” over who would make the more formidable general election candidate.

According to excerpts released by the network, Clinton told the network’s Katie Couric that she’s the best candidate for president because she has already endured the kinds of negative ads Republicans are sure to throw at a Democratic nominee, while Obama has not.


“Sen. Obama has never had, I don’t think, a single negative ad ever run against him,” Clinton said. “Until you’ve been through this experience, you have no idea what it is like, and he hasn’t been. He’s never had to face this. I am much better prepared and ready to . . . withstand whatever comes my way,” said Clinton.

Obama said in a separate interview that running for the Democratic nomination against the “Clinton machine” has hardened him for the battle ahead.

“Going up against the Clinton machine is no cakewalk,” he told interviewer Steve Kroft. Noting that Clinton disparages him for a supposed inability to withstand “the withering scrutiny,” Obama said of the Clintons, “They’re pretty serious about winning, too. They can play rough, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Former President Clinton, meanwhile, spent the day campaigning for his spouse among African American voters in Washington, D.C. and suburban Maryland. At the evangelical Temple of Praise congregation in Washington, he said that the contest between his wife, who would be the nation’s first woman president, and Obama, who would be the nation’s first African American president, was divinely inspired.

“All my life I have wanted to vote for a woman for president,” Clinton told 800 parishioners at the Temple of Praise. “All my life I have wanted to vote for an African American for president. . . . I wonder why God gave us this dilemma.”