By Anne E. Kornblut and Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, March 3, 2008
WESTERVILLE, Ohio, March 2 -- Sen. Barack Obama sharply questioned Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's claims of extensive foreign policy experience Sunday, pushing back against her argument that only she is prepared to handle national security as president as the two raced toward a pair of potentially decisive primary contests.
Obama, nearly crossing paths with his main rival as both Democrats campaigned across central Ohio, said Clinton argues that she has "all this vast foreign policy experience," but she did not read the National Intelligence Estimate before voting in 2002 to authorize the invasion of Iraq.
"We're still waiting to hear Senator Clinton tell us what precise foreign policy experience that she is claiming that makes her prepared to answer that phone call at 3 in the morning," Obama said, to cheers at a town hall meeting here.
Betting the future of her campaign on victories in Ohio and Texas on Tuesday, Clinton is closing out her effort with the argument that she would be best prepared to handle an international crisis, even running a provocative ad on the topic. She made that case again on Sunday, blending the argument with a description of herself as a "fighter, a doer and a champion" for low-income workers in this economically stressed region that has seen massive job losses.
"You know, for some people, this election is about how you feel. It's about speeches," Clinton said at a high school near where Obama spoke. "Well, that's not what it's about for me. It's about solutions."
Clinton got a hint on Sunday of the pressure she may face to get out of the race if she fails to make a strong showing on Tuesday and win significantly more delegates than Obama -- an unlikely outcome, given Democratic delegate-allocation rules. It came from a former rival for the nomination, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
Speaking on CBS's "Face the Nation," Richardson said: "I just think that D-Day is Tuesday. We have to have a positive campaign after Tuesday. Whoever has the most delegates after Tuesday, a clear lead, should be, in my judgment, the nominee."
Obama has such a big lead in pledged delegates that there is virtually no way Clinton can overtake him on Tuesday. The best hope for keeping her candidacy alive, advisers acknowledge, is to win the popular vote in the two big states with contests and to break about even in the delegate hunt. Vermont and Rhode Island also will hold primaries on Tuesday.
Richardson, who has not endorsed either Clinton or Obama, warned both candidates about negative campaigning. He was outspoken in his criticism of Clinton's new "ringing phone" ad, which suggests that Obama is not ready to become commander in chief.
"I happen to disagree with that ad that says that Senator Obama is not ready," he said. "He is ready. He has great judgment, an internationalist background."
At a town hall meeting at Westerville Central High School, Obama spent 20 minutes laying out his economic plans, covering topics from bankruptcy reform to middle-class tax cuts to college tuition credits. He later pivoted to foreign policy, delivering his toughest rebuke yet of Clinton's contention that his candidacy is built around little more than his early opposition to the Iraq war, while hers is built on lengthy foreign policy credentials.
Obama rarely mentions Clinton directly in his public remarks, but on Sunday he was both expansive and blunt.
"Now in the last few days, Senator Clinton goes running around telling people that the entire campaign, according to her, is only based on the fact that I gave a speech in opposition to the war in Iraq from the start," Obama said. "That that is the only basis of my campaign, and on the other hand she has, supposedly, all this vast foreign policy experience."
He continued, "I have to say that when it came to making the most important foreign policy decision of our generation, the decision to invade Iraq, Senator Clinton got it wrong."
Obama then revived last year's disclosure that Clinton had cast her 2002 authorization vote without reading the 90-page classified National Intelligence Estimate. The document raised concerns serious enough that it prompted then-Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), who was chairman of the committee with intelligence oversight at the time, to vote against the war.
"I don't know what all that experience got her, because I have the experience to know that . . . if the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee says, 'You should read this, this is why I voted against the war,' then you should probably read it," Obama said.
Clinton, meanwhile, plans to continue her focus on the economy, and scheduled a 4:30 a.m. visit on Monday to a Chrysler plant in Toledo as the shifts are changing, before flying to Texas. Among the events on her schedule are an interactive town hall meeting Monday night and a satellite appearance on Comedy Central's "Daily Show With Jon Stewart." Over the weekend, she flew to New York for a surprise appearance on NBC's "Saturday Night Live," part of a frenetic late push to revive her candidacy.
Sunday, her advisers cast a wide net in their continuing assault on Obama, hammering questions about his experience as well as his ties to a real estate magnate, Tony Rezko, who goes on trial Monday in Chicago. Clinton officials held a 45-minute conference call Sunday to highlight testimonials from former military officers, chief among them retired Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark, about her national security credentials.
In Akron, Clinton tied together the economy and national security issues, saying the region's economic downturn has a potential impact on defense technology.
"We used to own the night, in the American military, because we created night vision," Clinton said. "Now we don't own it anymore -- we just rent it." She said trade secrets and intellectual property have been shipped offshore, along with manufacturing jobs, creating fresh threats to national security.
At rallies throughout her final day in Ohio, Clinton stressed her fighting spirit. "For every problem, there's a solution in America," she said.
To make sure no one missed the point that she is waging a battle to the end, Clinton was introduced at a rally near Youngstown by Kelly Pavlik, a middleweight boxing champion and Youngstown native. Clinton said her husband, former president Bill Clinton, had described Pavlik as "another Comeback Kid" for the way he won his title. She said Pavlik could serve as an example to a region that has been battered economically. But the words applied equally to her own situation heading into Tuesday's showdowns with Obama.
"You know, in life, you get knocked down from time to time," she said. "Sometimes, well, you don't know it's coming." She recalled the day that the steel plant in Youngstown was locked up and the workers lost their jobs, but said she has been struck in her travels across Ohio the past two weeks by the resolve of people to rebuild the economy and their own lives. "I have seen in the last weeks the resilience and the grit and the determination of the people in Youngstown and across Ohio," she said.
Staff writer Dan Balz, with the Clinton campaign in Ohio, contributed to this report.