- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2008

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Sen. Barack Obama lambasted Sen. John McCain as tied to the “politics of the past” after the presumptive Republican nominee mocked the Democratic front-runner’s comments about al Qaeda in last night’s Democratic debate.

  • Multimedia: Clinton, Obama campaign in Ohio & Texas

  • “John McCain may like to say he wants to follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell, but so far all he’s done is follow George Bush into a misguided war in Iraq,” said Mr. Obama, of Illinois.

    He was responding to Mr. McCain, who told Texas voters today that Mr. Obama’s plans to pull out of Iraq and not return unless al Qaeda forms a base there is “pretty remarkable.

    “I have some news. Al Qaeda is in Iraq. It’s called ‘al Qaeda in Iraq,’” Mr. McCain said in Tyler, Texas, drawing laughter.

    “If we left, they (al Qaeda) wouldn’t be establishing a base,” he said. “They’d be taking a country, and I’m not going to allow that to happen, my friends. I will not surrender. I will not surrender to al Qaeda.”

    Mr. McCain said Mr. Obama is waving a “white flag” of surrender.

    Mr. Obama scoffed at the “news” from Mr. McCain: “Like I wasn’t reading the papers, like I didn’t know what was going on.”

    “I have some news for John McCain, and that is that there was no such thing as al Qaeda in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade Iraq,” Mr. Obama said, to sustained cheers at Ohio State University.

    Mr. Obama charged that the Republican “took us into war,” and that he will end it.

    “They took their eye off the people who were responsible for 9/11 that would be al Qaeda in Afghanistan that is stronger now than at any time since 2001. I’ve been paying attention, John McCain, that’s the news,” he said.

    The riff done in a booming voice was a sign of Mr. Obama’s growing confidence; his speech included little of his usual criticism of Democratic opponent Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

    Last night, Mr. Obama, when asked if as president he would reserve the right to send U.S. troops back into Iraq to quell an insurrection or civil war, said: “If al Qaeda is forming a base in Iraq, then we will have to act in a way that secures the American homeland and our interests abroad.”

    The dust-up played out on the trail as Rasmussen Reports released a new national poll showing more voters trust Mr. McCain than Mr. Obama on national security and Iraq. The poll of 1,200 likely Republican, Democrat and independent voters showed the Arizona senator leading Mr. Obama on trust in national security 55-30, and had Mr. McCain on top as more trustworthy on Iraq 49 to 39 for Mr. Obama.

    Mrs. Clinton told reporters she disagreed with assessments that she didn’t score a “knockout blow.”

    “That’s a prize fight, that’s not a debate,” she said.

    She said she thought people came away from the debate in Cleveland feeling “very positive and comfortable about what I said and what I presented my credentials and my positions.”

    Mrs. Clinton said she succeeded in drawing “real contrasts” with Mr. Obama and added the voters were paying closer attention to the “big questions” of the race the economy, foreign policy and middle-class woes that favor her candidacy, despite her dwindling poll numbers.

    “I feel very good about the answers [to the big questions] both against Mr. Obama and against Mr. McCain,” she said.

    S.A. Miller, traveling with Mrs. Clinton, contributed to this report, which is also based on wire services.

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