Ticket-Sharing Talk Dominates Day's Campaign Activity

Sen. Barack Obama says he's running for president, not vice-president. Obama's assertion during a speech in Columbus, Miss. came after his rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton, suggested the two would make good running mates, with her at the top of the ticket. Video by AP
By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 11, 2008

COLUMBUS, Miss., March 10 -- Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama hardly sounded like potential running mates Monday, with Obama accusing his rival of "gamesmanship" and the campaigns sparring over who is more qualified to be commander in chief.

A day before the Mississippi primary, which Obama is favored to win, he rejected Clinton's idea that he become the vice presidential nominee on a ticket her husband described last week as "an almost unstoppable force." The senator from Illinois said the Clintons' talk was designed to disguise his lead in the nomination fight and convince fence-sitters that they could vote for Clinton and get Obama, too.

"First of all, with all due respect, I've won twice as many states as Senator Clinton," Obama said to cheers here. "I've won more of the popular vote than Senator Clinton. I have more delegates than Senator Clinton. So, I don't know how somebody who's in second place is offering the vice presidency to somebody who's in first place."

Obama also said, with evident delight, that the Clintons' notion undermines their central challenge to his candidacy -- that he is not prepared to be president.

"I don't understand," Obama told the crowd at the Mississippi University for Women. "If I'm not ready, how is it you think I would be such a great vice president?"

To emphasize his point, Obama cited a CBS News interview in May 1992, when candidate Bill Clinton said that the most important criterion for the vice presidency was "someone who would be a good president if, God forbid, something happened to me a week after I took office."

Obama said: "You all know the okey-doke, when someone's trying to bamboozle you, when they're trying to hoodwink you. You can't say that -- 'He's not ready on Day One unless he's willing to be your vice president, then he's ready on Day One.' "

The duel over the Democrats' readiness to lead the nation in a time of war has become a critical subtext as the party seeks a nominee to face Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a prisoner of war in Vietnam who counts national security as his strong suit.

The Clinton camp contends that Obama is untested. His campaign charges that Clinton showed poor judgment when she voted to authorize the Iraq war and backed President Bush's more recent effort to challenge Iran's Republican Guard, which Obama on Monday called "saber rattling."

Clinton campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson on Monday said that Obama has not proved his ability to be president, but that he could by the time Clinton would choose a running mate -- by August's Democratic National Convention in Denver.

"Senator Obama has not passed the commander-in-chief test," Wolfson said, adding: "We have a long time between now and Denver." An invitation to become vice president, he said, "is not something that she would rule out at this point."

Asked what Obama could do to prove his worth by August, Wolfson avoided the question.

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