By Shailagh Murray and Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, April 19, 2008
ERIE, Pa., April 18 -- Sen. Barack Obama battled rivals on two fronts heading into the final weekend before the Pennsylvania primary, facing ridicule over his toughness from his Democratic rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, and tangling over the economy with Republican Sen. John McCain.
The senator from Illinois is coming off one of his roughest weeks to date on the campaign trail, spending much of it trying to explain his description of small-town Americans as "bitter" people who "cling" to guns and religion. In a Democratic debate on Wednesday, he faced sharp questions about his patriotism, his controversial former pastor, and his relationship to a former member of the radical Vietnam War-era group the Weather Underground.
So far, the stumbles don't appear to have dramatically altered the dynamic of the race. Polls conducted this week in Pennsylvania showed little movement, and he drew his biggest crowd ever with 35,000 people in downtown Philadelphia on Friday night.
On Friday, he was endorsed by two prominent former senators, Sam Nunn (Ga.) and David Boren (Okla.), who joined the campaign as national security advisers (neither is a superdelegate). Clinton won the backing Friday of two former New Jersey governors, Jim Florio and Brendan Byrne, as well as Ohio Rep. Betty Sutton. An Associated Press analysis of the current pledged-delegate tally found that by the time primary voting ends, Obama could come within 100 delegates of the 2,025 total needed to win the nomination.
As the biggest state still up for grabs, Pennsylvania represents Clinton's best chance of catching up to Obama in pledged-delegate and popular votes, and the New York senator is barnstorming the state this weekend in search of the widest possible victory margin. Campaigning in Radnor Township on Friday, she ridiculed Obama for protesting what he called the lack of substance in the Philadelphia debate.
"I know some of my opponent's supporters and my opponent are complaining about the hard questions, but having been in the White House for eight years . . . that was nothing," Clinton said at a rally at a high school in the Philadelphia suburb. "I'm with Harry Truman on this: If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Just speaking for myself, I'm very comfortable in the kitchen."
Earlier, in a Philadelphia television interview, she said: "I know he spent all day yesterday complaining about the hard questions he was asked. Being asked tough questions in a debate is nothing like the pressures you face inside the White House."
Obama dismissed the remarks, asking reporters as he left his campaign plane in Williamsport, "Did you hear me complain? Who's been complaining about press for the last six months?" His campaign circulated video showing Clinton raising objections about the news media and questions she had received in earlier debates, lamenting during one that she was repeatedly asked the first question and that reporters were too soft on Obama.
At a town hall meeting here, Obama sought to turn the focus back to the idea of an Obama-McCain general-election showdown. He seized on remarks McCain made during an interview Thursday with Bloomberg Television in which he addressed the economic legacy of the Bush administration by saying, "You could make an argument there's been great progress economically. But that's no comfort."
Obama has hammered McCain as out of touch with the mortgage meltdown, rising gas prices, flat wages and other forces creating hardship for many Americans, and in Erie, he picked up on the bullish-sounding snippet of McCain's quote as further proof that he doesn't take the festering crisis seriously. "Yesterday, Senator John McCain made the outlandish statement that there has been 'great progress economically' over the last 7 1/2 years. That would be news to the families of Erie," Obama said, to loud cheers.
The McCain campaign accused Obama of "intentionally twisting" the Arizona Republican's words. "Barack Obama is being recklessly dishonest," McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds shot back in a statement. The Republican National Committee circulated video of Obama acknowledging earlier in his Erie speech that "our economy actually expanded over the last several years."