Obama Ratchets Up Criticism of Clinton

By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sen. Barack Obama yesterday slammed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for "ducking the issue" of ensuring the solvency of Social Security and signaled that he will take a more aggressive approach to the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination.

At an event in Des Moines, Obama (D-Ill.) characterized Clinton's approach to addressing the issues as "You should hedge, dodge and spin, but at all costs, don't answer."

The statements marked the latest escalation of campaign rhetoric from a candidate who earlier this year declined to criticize his chief opponent for the nomination. Increasingly, he is taking on not just Clinton's policy views but also her character, and is casting the Democratic front-runner as someone who makes decisions based on polls and calculation, rather than on her convictions.

To emphasize this theme, Obama, who trails Clinton (D-N.Y.) by a wide margin in national polls, was introduced at the event by Tod Bowman, a Democrat and high school teacher in Maquoketa, Iowa. He said Clinton ducked his question about Social Security at an event this month.

"It made me wonder: If a candidate won't answer a question on the campaign trail, how can we be sure she'll be honest with the American people when they're president?" Bowman said at an event at a senior citizen center in Des Moines.

Clinton's aides counter that Obama has also failed to offer a detailed plan to address Social Security's solvency.

"Senator Clinton has been clear and consistent about her position on Social Security," spokesman Phil Singer said. "As president, her first priority will be restoring fiscal responsibility and fair tax policies, and then will work in a bipartisan process to address Social Security's long-term challenges."

This argument and Obama's tone in taking on Clinton are a clear shift. Last month, his aides said he would focus on policy differences with Clinton.

But in recent weeks, Obama has poked fun at Clinton, an Illinois native, for not answering a question in a debate about whether she would cheer for the New York Yankees or the Chicago Cubs if they both made the World Series, and he has criticized "triangulation and poll-driven politics," a reference to Bill Clinton's attempts to capture the center during his administration. In his attacks against Hillary Clinton, Obama only this month has begun regularly uttering the words "Senator Clinton," rather than criticizing "the Washington establishment" or unnamed others.

"There's a whole range of issues she has been less than forthcoming, and she's made a judgment that this is a good political strategy," David Axelrod, Obama's chief political adviser, said yesterday.

In an interview with the New York Times that will be published today, Obama himself made a similar criticism.

"Now, it's been very deft politically," he told the Times of Clinton's strategy. "But one of the things that I firmly believe is that we've got to be clear with the American people right now about the important choices that we're going to need to make in order to get a mandate for change, not to try to obfuscate and avoid being a target in the general election."

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