Clinton Steps Up Attacks on Obama

In the battle for Wisconsin, Democratic hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are accusing each other of plagiarism. Jim Axelrod reports. Video by
By Matthew Mosk and Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Aides to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) accused Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) yesterday of plagiarizing portions of a recent speech and continued to question his vows to reform the campaign finance system as Clinton sought to drive home the idea that her Democratic rival's presidential bid is built on style more than substance.

The two-pronged attack came as Clinton attempts to slow Obama's momentum in today's contests in Wisconsin, which neighbors his home state of Illinois, and in Hawaii, where he was born.

The race in Wisconsin, where Clinton dug in over the weekend in an effort to break a string of eight straight primary and caucus defeats, has turned increasingly negative. Just days ago, Clinton aides accused Obama of breaking his pledge to accept public financing in place of private donations during the general election. Obama's aides say he did not make a firm commitment to accept public financing if he won the nomination.

Yesterday, key Clinton supporters accused Obama of "lifting" a passage of the rousing speech he delivered to a party gathering in Milwaukee on Saturday night from Massachusetts Gov. Deval L. Patrick, a longtime friend and supporter. Side-by-side YouTube videos distributed to reporters by the Clinton campaign show Obama repeating, almost verbatim, lines from a speech Patrick gave two years earlier.

"The point we're making overall is that Senator Obama's record as a senator and as a public official is thin," said Howard Wolfson, a senior Clinton adviser. "If you're asking an electorate to judge you on your promises and you break them, and on your rhetoric and you lift it, there are fundamental problems with your campaign."

Answering a reporter's question in Niles, Ohio, Obama said he does not think using Patrick's words was "too big a deal."

"Well, look, I was on the stump. He had suggested we use these lines. I thought they were good lines," Obama said when asked why he did not credit Patrick. "I'm sure I should have. Didn't this time."

Obama returned to Wolfson's assertion while speaking with reporters on his campaign plane: "The notion that using a line from one of my national campaign co-chairs . . . is somehow objectionable, somehow doesn't make sense."

Obama's aides also called Clinton's criticism of his public financing plans "curious." They noted that she was the first candidate in the 2008 field to announce plans to reject the public financing system, saying more than a year ago that she would try to use private contributions to finance a general election bid if she were the party's nominee.

"We're just not going to be lectured on this," said Obama campaign manager David Plouffe.

Obama first raised the notion of accepting public funds in the general election a year ago, when he sought a ruling from the Federal Election Commission that would preserve that option for him. He said then that if the GOP nominee entered the system -- in which the candidate accepts $85 million to fund a general election campaign and agrees to raise no other money -- he would also enter it.

Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), who is moving ever closer to accumulating the delegates he need for the GOP nomination, reaffirmed last week that he would be willing to accept that deal and urged Obama to "keep his word" on the issue.

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