Clinton, Obama Camps' Feud Is Out in the Open

By Chris Cillizza and Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, February 22, 2007

An increasingly acrimonious competition between Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton to enlist the Democratic Party's leading fundraisers and operatives burst into the open yesterday, overshadowing what was billed as the presidential campaign's first gathering of candidates in Nevada.

While Clinton (N.Y.) and Obama (Ill.) have not for the most part taken their competition public, their campaigns in recent weeks have been trumpeting each victory, such as the recruitment of a major Boston-based rainmaker by Obama and a prominent African American state senator from South Carolina by Clinton.

The back-and-forth between the two campaigns has largely been fodder for political insiders. Yesterday, however, David Geffen, the music and film producer who is one of the party's most prominent donors, made the fight more public. In an interview with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, Geffen said that Clinton is "the easiest to beat" of the Democratic field and skewered her unwillingness to apologize for her 2002 vote to use force in Iraq. "It's not a very big thing to say 'I made a mistake' on the war, and typical of Hillary Clinton that she can't," Geffen said.

Geffen, who was a co-host of an Obama fundraiser Tuesday night in Los Angeles, saved even sharper criticism for former president Bill Clinton, to whom he was close before a falling-out over the pardoning of financier Marc Rich at the end of Clinton's second term. "I don't think anybody believes that in the last six years, all of a sudden Bill Clinton has become a different person," Geffen said in an oblique reference to questions surrounding the former president's private life.

After seeing the comments yesterday morning, the Clinton campaign immediately issued a call for Obama to disavow Geffen's remarks and return his $2,300 donation, arguing that they were contrary to Obama's pledge to run a positive campaign.

"A day after Barack Obama goes out and eschews the politics of slash-and-burn, his campaign embraces the politics of trash," said Phil Singer, Clinton's deputy communications director, referring to a speech Obama made Tuesday in Las Vegas.

Obama communications director Robert Gibbs took a markedly different course. After refusing to get in the "middle of a disagreement between the Clintons and someone who was once one of their biggest supporters," Gibbs pointed out that Hillary Clinton had recently praised Robert Ford, another South Carolina state senator who endorsed her and said the Democratic ticket would be in serious trouble if Obama was the nominee because of the color of his skin. Clinton distanced herself from that remark, and Ford later apologized for it.

Obama weighed in later. "It's not clear to me why I would be apologizing for someone else's remarks," he said in Iowa, where he had gone instead of the candidates forum because of a prior commitment. "My sense is that Mr. Geffen may have differences with the Clintons, but that doesn't really have anything to do with our campaign."

At the forum in Carson City, Nev., ABC's George Stephanopoulos, the moderator, asked Clinton whether she agreed with her campaign spokesman that Obama should disavow Geffen's comments.

Clinton did not answer directly. "I want to run a very positive campaign, and I sure don't want Democrats or supporters of Democrats to be engaging in the politics of personal destruction," she said. "I think we should stay focused on what we're going to do for America." She then added, to applause: "And, you know, I believe Bill Clinton was a good president. I'm very proud of the record of his two terms."

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson sided with Clinton and called on Obama to denounce Geffen's comments. "I think these name-callings are not good," he said. "I don't know Mr. Geffen. I don't know what was said. . . . But we don't need that. We Democrats should sign a pledge that we all be positive. That's what the American people want."

While her campaign was on the attack against Obama, Clinton found herself on the defensive once more over Iraq. She was challenged again to explain her vote for the 2002 resolution authorizing the war and her reluctance to call that vote a mistake or to express regret for it.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company