- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2008

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday went after Sen. Barack Obama as inexperienced on matters of national security and as a politician with no record of accomplishment.

The New York Democrat said it was time to “get real” that only she has the credentials to face Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

“That is all we’re asking for, we’re asking to compare our records, we’re asking to compare our years of service … our ideas, our solutions,” Mrs. Clinton said yesterday as her husband called Texas and Ohio make-or-break elections.

She brushed off losing 10 straight contests to Mr. Obama, telling a Texas NBC affiliate, “We’ve won some, and we’ve lost some, and the race is still essentially tied.”

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said he is “amused” and considers it “lunacy” when Clinton aides suggest they are nearly tied because Mr. Obama has the delegate lead based on his latest victories.

“They are going to have to win landslides from here on out to erase [the Obama lead],” he said.

Meanwhile, Mr. McCain, who is expected to win the Republican nomination, found himself on the defensive late yesterday, issuing a statement saying he “will not allow a smear campaign” to distract from his campaign as published reports questioned his relationship with a lobbyist.

The Washington Post quoted longtime aide John Weaver, who split with Mr. McCain last year, as saying he met with Vicki Iseman and urged her to stay away from Mr. McCain. The New York Times suggested an inappropriate relationship between the Arizona senator and Miss Iseman, a Washington-based lobbyist. The New York Times quoted anonymous aides saying they had confronted Mr. McCain and Miss Iseman, urging them to stay away from each other, before his failed presidential campaign in 2000.

The published reports said Mr. McCain and Miss Iseman each denied having a romantic relationship, and the paper offered no evidence that they had, saying only that aides worried about the appearance of Mr. McCain having close ties to a lobbyist with business before the Senate Commerce Committee, on which Mr. McCain served.

Published reports purport that Mr. McCain wrote letters and pushed legislation involving television station ownership that would have benefited Miss Iseman’s clients.

In a statement issued by his presidential campaign, McCain spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker said: “It is a shame that The New York Times has lowered its standards to engage in a hit-and-run smear campaign.

On the stump in Texas yesterday, Mr. Obama was on the defensive himself, batting back at the “choice” Mrs. Clinton says she offers.

“Contrary to what she was saying, it’s not a choice between speeches and solutions. It’s a choice between politics that offers more of the same divisions and distractions that didn’t work in South Carolina and didn’t work in Wisconsin and will not work in Texas,” he said.

Earlier yesterday, the Clinton campaign distributed a video of an Obama supporter who failed to think of a single legislative accomplishment Mr. Obama could claim.

“I’m not going to be able to name you specific items of legislative accomplishment,” Texas State Sen. Kirk Watson told Chris Matthews of MSNBC when pressed to do so. “I’m not going to be able to do that tonight. … One of the things that Senator Obama does is he inspires.”

Clinton backer Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar responded saying campaign surrogates “need to understand who we’re supporting and why we’re supporting them.”

Mrs. Clinton also mentioned it on the stump yesterday, and her team said Mr. Obama has no accomplishments.

Mr. Watson took a self-deprecating tone on his blog yesterday explaining he temporarily “lost my mind” and blanked on Obama achievements he could have cited by heart. He said the “gaffe is not, in any way, a comment on Senator Obama, his substantial record, or the great opportunity we all share to elect him president.”

Clinton strategist Mark Penn said yesterday there is a “very stark choice” between his candidate and Mr. Obama because she “worked with world leaders” as first lady and the first-term senator has “relatively no experience on national security.”

As the race got even more bitter yesterday, Mrs. Clinton characterized Mr. Obama’s economic plans to an Ohio TV station as “short of solutions” and “half-hearted attempts.”

The Obama campaign said Mrs. Clinton would need to win the next three large states of Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania by more than 20-point margins to close the gap. After the Illinois senator won in Wisconsin and Hawaii on Tuesday, the campaign announced it had raised $36 million last month, $4 million more than initially projected and $22.5 million more than Mrs. Clinton’s January haul of $13.5 million.

The Clinton campaign has said she raised $1 million a day in February so far.

Under the “worst-case scenario” he can imagine, Mr. Obama would retain a delegate lead of about 150, Mr. Plouffe said.

Clinton advisers quickly disputed the math that she would need huge wins in the March 4 races in Texas and Ohio and predicted “she will close the gap substantially” after the final contest in Puerto Rico on June 7.

But former President Bill Clinton told Texans yesterday, “It’s all on you,” stressing the Lone Star state’s importance.

“If she wins in Texas and Ohio, she’ll be the nominee. If she doesn’t, I don’t think she can be,” he said.

Earlier yesterday, Clinton adviser Harold Ickes said it’s a “nice try” that Mr. Plouffe suggested the former first lady would need to win 65 percent of the vote in the big states. “There’s no expectation here we’re going to hit that number,” he said.

“Texas and Ohio loom large, they are critically important, they are big states [and] there are a lot of delegates at stake,” Mr. Ickes said.

But heading into the March 4 contests, Mr. Obama has several advantages — he has won more “pledged” delegates by winning state contests, he wooed four superdelegates away from Mrs. Clinton yesterday, and he is still raking in cash.

Also yesterday, Mr. Obama nabbed a major national endorsement from the Teamsters union and won the backing of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers.

Right after Super Tuesday — when she won the big prizes of New York and California but lost smaller states to her rival — Mrs. Clinton’s campaign deployed her staff and volunteers to Texas and Ohio where they have been shoring up her ground game.

They are encouraging Democrats to vote early, a similar tactic that helped her win California by a large margin.

But Mr. Obama has deployed resources to Texas and Ohio as well, and has asked his supporters from across the country to volunteer on his behalf in the next two weeks.

The Clinton campaign is struggling to match Mr. Obama’s organization that is already in place in Texas, said Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz, Texas Democrat and superdelegate who backs Mrs. Clinton.

“If they don’t do that, then we are going to come up short,” he said, adding Obama campaign workers are ready to stampede voters into caucus sites following the primary vote, where the candidates have another 65 delegates up for grabs.

“When you have momentum like Obama has, you are going to have a tough race on your hands.”

Mr. Ortiz said the party’s superdelegates — Democratic members of Congress and party activists who likely will decide the nomination — eventually will side with the most competitive candidate to avoid a messy fight at the convention in Denver and “so as not to ruffle any feathers.”

c S.A. Miller and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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