Clinton-Obama flap shifts race to negative tone
WASHINGTON, July 27 (Reuters) In a flap that has shifted the Democratic 2008 presidential race to a more negative tone, Hillary Clinton is pitting her experience against Barack Obama's desire for fundamental change.
Neither side was backing down from a dispute that erupted at a debate on Monday and turned nastier as the week went on, wrapping up with bitter exchanges yesterday between top Clinton strategist Howard Wolfson and his Obama counterpart, David Axelrod.
Clinton considers the first-term senator from Illinois naive for saying he would be willing to meet leaders of hostile nations like Iran and Cuba, while Obama thinks Clinton is sticking to the foreign policy status quo of the much-criticised Bush administration.
The Obama camp, looking for an opening to use the feud to cut into Clinton's lead in the polls, put up an advertisement on news sites on Friday in the early US voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
The ad criticizes the New York senator and former first lady for her initial vote in support of the Iraq war and asks the question, ''Ready for a New Direction?'' ''It's time to abandon the short-sighted, naive idea that we punish our enemies by not talking to them. It's time to let go of the thinking that got us into Iraq without a plan in the first place,'' the ad said.
The Clinton camp placed comments from her and Obama on her web site, HillaryHub.com, and provided a link to an opinion article written by conservative Charles Krauthammer that described ''how the grizzled veteran showed up the clueless rookie.'' The candidates themselves held their fire on the topic in separate appearances before the Urban League annual conference in St Louis.
Clinton emphasized the need to confront problems faced by African Americans, while Obama said the country would look at itself in a different way when he is inaugurated as the first black president in US history.
''Don't underestimate that transformation,'' Obama said.
Former Sen John Edwards, in third place in the polls behind Clinton and Obama to become the Democratic nominee in the November 2008 election, inserted himself into the conflict and tried to take the high road.
''If you're looking for what's wrong in Washington, why the system is broken, one perfect example is what's been happening over the last four days. We've had two good people, Democratic candidates for president, who've spent their time attacking each other instead of attacking the problems facing our country,'' Edwards, the party's 2004 vice presidential candidate, told the Urban League event.
Aides said Edwards' position on meeting leaders of hostile nations was similar to that of Clinton -- that any presidential meeting with the leader of a troublesome nation would have to be preceded by lower-level diplomatic contact to ensure it would be productive and not misused for propaganda purposes.
Another Democratic candidate, Connecticut Sen Chris Dodd, called the conflict ''just another personal argument among politicians, and that's lamentable given the stakes in this election.'' And still another candidate, New Mexico Gov Bill Richardson, who has done his share of international diplomacy as a former US ambassador to the United Nations, said he did not see what all the fuss was about.
''You know, I've actually met a lot of these guys already -- I've met (Cuban leader Fidel) Castro, I've met (Venezuelan President Hugo) Chavez,'' he told The Washington Post.
A front-runner in US politics does not generally benefit from engaging a trailing opponent, but in this case, the Clinton campaign is wary of Obama's fund-raising -- he has raised more than her -- and is eager to try to pin the inexperienced label on him.
The Obama camp believes the dispute demonstrated ''a real choice'' for Democratic voters and showed the Illinois senator represents ''dramatic change'' from conventional thinking.
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