By Perry Bacon Jr. and Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, February 24, 2008
HUBER HEIGHTS, Ohio, Feb. 23 -- In perhaps her sharpest attack of the 2008 presidential campaign, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton accused her Democratic rival Saturday of "using tactics that are straight out of Karl Rove's playbook," declaring at one point, "Shame on you, Barack Obama."
Clinton's comments in Cincinnati represented a marked shift from just two days ago, when she and Obama engaged in a generally good-natured debate in Austin. The Illinois senator responded by noting "the sudden change in tone" and questioning Clinton's timing, ahead of Sunday newspaper deadlines and with another debate three days away.
"It makes me think there's something tactical about her getting so exercised this morning," he said in Columbus.
Clinton took strong exception to Obama mailings that criticized her views on health care and trade. Both mailings have been sent before by the Obama campaign, and her aides had expressed frustration about them, but the New York senator had not previously addressed them in such a pointed way.
"I have to express my deep disappointment that he is continuing to send false and discredited mailings," Clinton said, holding the fliers in her hand. "He says one thing in his speeches, and then he turns around and does this. It is not the new politics the speeches are about. It is not hopeful. It is destructive."
She added, "Shame on you, Barack Obama. It is time you ran a campaign consistent with your messages in public."
One mailing says that Clinton's health-care plan would force people to purchase insurance, even if they cannot afford it. The other quotes a Newsday article that says Clinton regarded the North American Free Trade Agreement as a "boon" to the economy. The Long Island newspaper has acknowledged that was the word it chose to describe her view of the controversial agreement.
Obama defended the accuracy of the mailings, although he granted that it was "fair" to question that Clinton used the word "boon." He said the mailing had been produced before Newsday clarified that Clinton herself had not used the word.
But he added that the overall thrust of the publication stood.
"Senator Clinton, as part of the Clinton administration, supported NAFTA. In her book, she called it one of the administration's successes," he said. "We're pointing that out in a state that's been devastated by trade and is deeply concerned about the position of the candidates on trade."
It was indisputable, Obama added, that Clinton's plan required people to buy health insurance even if they did not think they could afford it. She may not want the plan described that way, he said, just as he did not like her characterizing his plan, which does not include a mandate, as leaving out 15 million people.
"We have been subject to constant attack from the Clinton campaign except when we were down 20 points. They need to take a look at what they've been doing," Obama said.
Clinton and Obama have agreed to a debate Tuesday in Cleveland, and Clinton hinted that she would use the opportunity to press her point.
"Meet me in Ohio; let's have a debate about your tactics," she said. "Enough about the speeches and the big rallies and then using tactics right out of Karl Rove's playbook. This is wrong, and every Democrat should be outraged."
Clinton's health-care plan is estimated to cover more people than Obama's in part because it requires people to purchase insurance, although it stipulates that Americans would have to pay only a certain percentage of their income for health-care costs. If government subsidies are large enough, Clinton's plan is not likely to force people to pay excessive amounts for health care, although it is difficult to define what is "affordable."
Clinton has sought to distance herself from NAFTA throughout the campaign. In Cincinnati, she said the administration of George H.W. Bush, not Bill Clinton, had "negotiated" NAFTA. But her husband was an enthusiastic backer of NAFTA in the 1990s, helping get it passed despite opposition from some Democrats in Congress. Obama's campaign put out on Saturday a long list of statements from the 1990s in which Hillary Clinton expressed enthusiasm about NAFTA.
Obama has won 11 straight contests in the Democratic campaign, heading into March 4 primaries in four states, including Ohio and Texas. Clinton's husband has said both are must-wins for his wife, and Clinton added a campaign stop in Houston last night to an already packed schedule.
Obama said that if Clinton had enjoyed such a string of victories, he would be getting more pressure than she is to quit the race. But, he said, "She's the champ, she's part of the Democratic network in Washington, and if you're the title holder, then you don't lose it on points. You've got to be knocked out."
MacGillis, traveling with the Obama campaign, reported from Columbus.