Obama Sharpens His Tone
Monday, April 21, 2008
READING, Pa., April 20 -- Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton on Sunday traded accusations of negative campaigning as they headed toward a critical showdown in the Pennsylvania primary.
The volleying in the final hours reflected the high stakes in Tuesday's contest. Clinton is favored to win, but the senator from New York may still face renewed pressure to end her candidacy unless she rolls up a sizable margin in the popular vote and significant gains in the overall delegate count. As the candidates jostled with one another, their advisers mounted a final effort to shape expectations for what will constitute victory on Tuesday.
The Pennsylvania race has forced Obama to rewrite his script from earlier contests, with the result being a more aggressive tone and style in the final hours of this campaign than had been the case in previous states. Far more than at any other time in the campaign, Obama has applied pressure to Clinton, both on the stump and in his increasingly negative advertising.
The dramatic shifts in Obama's campaign in Pennsylvania reflect the lessons learned from earlier disappointments, when victories might have driven Clinton from the race. In the closing days of previous contests, the senator from Illinois almost appeared to coast toward the finish, wary of appearing too aggressive toward Clinton for fear that undecided voters would find her a sympathetic figure.
Since Wednesday's debate in Philadelphia, however, Obama has steadily escalated his rhetorical attacks. He has questioned whether she is honest and trustworthy and cast her as a practitioner of old-style, special-interest politics.
Speaking at Reading High School Sunday afternoon, Obama accused Clinton of using a "kitchen-sink" strategy of negative attacks aimed at him and said to his opponent, "You learned the wrong lessons from those Republicans who were going after you in same way using the same tactics all those years. I don't want us to become like them. I want us to change the country."
Clinton, campaigning in Bethlehem, called her rival's approach "so negative" and charged him with mimicking Republicans by attacking her plan for universal health care.
"He has sent out mailers, he has run ads, misrepresenting what I have proposed," Clinton said. "I really regret that because the last thing we need is to have somebody spending as much money as he has downgrading universal health care."
Obama's Pennsylvania campaign reflects his desire to bring the long nomination battle to a close quickly. He also is seeking to overcome any doubts the remaining uncommitted superdelegates may have about his toughness as a candidate in the hope that many more will endorse him.
But Obama advisers also believe they are competing against a more vulnerable Clinton, one whose credibility is damaged and whose negatives are higher as a result of a series of mistakes.
Clinton's campaign advisers say it is now Obama who is pursuing a kitchen-sink strategy, with millions of dollars of television ads. Geoffrey Garin, the co-chief strategist of Clinton's campaign, said Obama's campaign "is throwing a ton of money and a ton of mud at us" because it fears the consequences of a Clinton victory.
Garin said that, after controversy over Obama's comments about small-town Americans being "bitter" and a debate in which he was subjected to tough questions, the stakes have been raised for Obama in Pennsylvania.