- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 20, 2008

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Presidential hopefuls Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton barnstormed across the state today in a final plea for votes before Tuesday’s crucial primary, as the campaigns saturate the airwaves with attack ads and trade accusations of deploying misleading messages.

Mrs. Clinton of New York said Mr. Obama’s campaign went negative after his poor performance last week in a Philadelphia debate, despite his pledge not to stoop to Washington-style politics of “distraction.”

“While my opponent says one thing and his campaign does another, you can count on me to tell you where I stand,” she told about 1,000 supporters at a rally in the gymnasium at Liberty High School in Bethlehem.

“He has sent out mailers, he has run ads misrepresenting what I am proposing,” Mrs. Clinton said of the Obama campaign attacks on her health-care plan. “The last thing we need is someone spending as much money as he has to help degrade universal health care.”

The candidates have long tussled over their health-care plans but the dispute reached new heights in Pennsylvania this weekend with an Obama TV add that said Mrs. Clinton’s plan “forces everyone to buy insurance even if you can’t afford it and you pay a penalty of you don’t.”

“My plan covers everybody,” Mrs. Clinton said. “His plan doesn’t. It would leave out about 15 million people.”

Mr. Obama is running TV ads depicting her ads and saying they are the “same-old” attacks.

During his own campaign blitz this weekend, Mr. Obama derided Mrs. Clinton as saying voters should “settle” for her because she was so accustomed to the ins and outs of Washington.

He said she is throwing the “kitchen sink” at him, and in Harrisburg last night added that also came along with the “china” and the “buffet table.”

“Senator Clinton will be vastly better than George Bush would be, but that’s a very low bar,” he said in Harrisburg last night, drawing big cheers to a crowd that had booed his rivals’ name.

“Her argument is that she knows how to play the game better, but we don’t need somebody who knows how to play the game better, we need somebody to put an end to the game-playing,” he added.

The candidates nearly crossed paths in Bethlehem in the middle of Mr. Obama’s busy day. He attended church services and wooed voters at a diner in Robesonia before hitting the streets of Bethlehem.

Mrs. Clinton started the day greeting the breakfast crowd at Bonnet Lane Family Restaurant in Abington, Pa., a mostly white suburban community about 10 miles north of Philadelphia.

Democrat Bob Hess, 49, a Clinton supporter and restaurant regular, said the increasingly harsh tone of campaigns was just politics as usual.

“I think people are smart enough to look past all that,” he said.

Mrs. Clinton plans to criss-cross the state today, heading form Bethlehem to events in Johnstown and State College.

The former first lady picked up the unexpected endorsement of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review whose publisher, Richard Mellon Scaife, financed many of the investigations in the early 1990s that led to the impeachment of her husband, President Bill Clinton.

At the time, Mrs. Clinton criticized Mr. Scaife for being part of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” aimed at bringing down Mr. Clinton.

In giving the endorsement, the newspaper cited Mrs. Clinton’s experience and credited her with having the “courage” to sit down with the editorial board at the Tribune-Review. Mr. Obama declined the newspaper’s invitation to do the same.

“Clinton’s decision to sit down with the Trib was courageous, given our long-standing criticism of her,” the paper said. “That is no small matter. Political courage is essential in a president. Clinton has demonstrated it. Obama has not.”

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