Obama Sharpens His Arguments Against Clinton, Questions Her Foreign-Policy Experience

Date: Monday, March 03, 2008
By: BlackAmericaWeb.com and Associated Press

Democrat Barack Obama worked to fend off an intensified attack on his foreign policy credentials from rival Hillary Rodham Clinton on Sunday as their paths crossed days ahead of a potentially race-ending showdown in Ohio and Texas.

“What precise foreign-policy experience is she claiming that makes her qualified to answer that telephone call at 3 a.m. in the morning?” Obama asked of the former first lady at a town-hall meeting in Westerville, Ohio. It was a reference to dueling television ads over who would exercise superior judgment in responding to a national emergency in the middle of the night.

The Illinois senator also sought to ease lingering Internet-fed concerns about his religion, in particular whether he was a closet Muslim.

“I am a devout Christian. I have been a member of the same church for 20 years. I pray to Jesus every night,” he declared at an earlier appearance in the rural southern Ohio town of Nelsonville. He said he wanted to halt “confusion that has been deliberately perpetrated.”

Unlike Clinton, who has been barnstorming Ohio, Obama had only two events in the state on Sunday spent the night in hometown Chicago. He heads to Texas on Monday for a final day of campaigning before awaiting returns on Tuesday in San Antonio.

His aides said privately that they felt they had a good shot at a win in Texas, but were less certain about Ohio, where they braced for a possible loss.

The two senators came close to running into each other in this Columbus suburb, where Clinton spoke at one high school and Obama spoke several hours later at another. Obama supporters boasted of a much larger crowd.

Obama said his opposition to the war in 2002 was not a single speech — as Clinton has asserted — but a series of remarks during his 2002 successful Senate campaign.

Obama criticized Clinton expressly for failing to read the classified National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq’s weapons capabilities, a report available at the time of her October 2002 vote authorizing the Iraq war. “She didn’t give diplomacy a chance. And to this day, she won’t even admit that her vote was a mistake — or even that it was a vote for war,” Obama said.

“When it came time to make the most important foreign policy decision of our generation — the decision to invade Iraq — Senator Clinton got it wrong,” Obama said.

He said that Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a fellow Democrat from neighboring West Virginia, had read the intelligence estimate as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. However, Rockefeller wound up voting for the war resolution.

Rockefeller, who is now chairman of that committee, endorsed Obama on Friday and campaigned with him on Saturday.

Rockefeller called Obama “brilliant” and “well grounded” and prepared to take the reins as commander in chief.

Obama picked up another high-profile endorsement Sunday from hip-hop icon Russell Simmons as the Illinois senator and his rival continue to shatter fund raising records in February, taking in more than $80 million combined.

“Today I am announcing my personal endorsement of Senator Barack Obama for President of the United States,” Simmons said in a statement Sunday.

“During the last nine months, I have closely observed the presidential campaigns, analyzed the issues and platforms of the major candidates and have had substantive discussions with Senator Clinton and Senator Obama.” Simmons said.

Simmons’ endorsement one day before Tuesday’s critical primaries in Texas and Ohio could help Obama attract even more younger voters of all ethnic backgrounds, and particularly with young African-Americans and Latinos.

“From the sidelines of the primaries and debates, I have been particularly inspired by the fact that Senator Obama has built an unprecedented national movement comprised of people from all ethnic, racial, political, social and economic backgrounds,” said Simmons, chairman of The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network. “In particular, the response to Obama by young voters across America continues to be monumental.”

Meanwhile, the Obama campaign did not release an official estimate of its February fundraising totals this weekend as expected, but according to media reports, donors estimated it at about $50 million. An aide to Obama told BlackAmericaWeb.com that fundraising totals for February are not due to the Federal Election Commission until mid-March.

Last February, Obama pledged to accept public financing and its spending limit of an estimated $85 million in the general election race if he wins the Democratic nomination, and his Republican opponent agreed to the same spending limits.

Clinton announced last week that she raised $35 million — by far her biggest one-month total of the campaign — and has stepped up television ads in Texas questioning whether Obama’s is prepared to keep America safe during a national crisis. Tuesday’s Texas and Ohio primary showdown could decide the Democratic nominee.

“The enormous sums of money raised by the Democratic presidential nominees this election cycle are unprecedented,” Michelle Bernard, a black conservative and president of the Washington, D.C.-based Independent Women’s Voice, told BlackAmericaWeb.com.

“Given that a large number of these donors have not yet reached the federal ceiling on campaign contributions, this is a well of highly enthusiastic donors that the Obama campaign can tap into repeatedly,” she said. “It has been reported that the Obama campaign may have raised $50 million or more in February alone. The Obama campaign has managed to do was inconceivable in the 2004 presidential election. It is truly the dawn of a new day in American politics.”

Clinton has lost 11 straight primaries and caucuses to Obama, and she badly needs a win in Texas and Ohio to keep her hopes of winning the White House alive. Even her husband, former president Bill Clinton, said if Clinton loses Texas sand Ohio on Tuesday, her campaign is over, and Democratic leaders would increase calls for Clinton to bow out.

Last week, Clinton campaign aides — in a reverse of Bill Clinton’s statements — suggested that if Clinton splits a win with Obama in Texas or Ohio, she could stay in the race.

In the meantime, the Obama machine is raising millions of dollars the old-fashioned way: One buck at a time.

Many Democratic strategists — including some in the Clinton camp — were surprised by Obama’s January fundraising take of $36 million and took notice at his ability to raise small-dollar amounts from over one million donors.

According to media reports, an analysis by the Campaign Finance Institute, which tracks trends in political money, found that Obama raised about a third of his money in 2007 from donors who gave $200 or less.

Peter C. Groff, a Colorado state senator, publisher of Blackpolicy.org and executive director of the Center for African-American Policy at the University of Denver, said Sen. Obama’s recent fundraising numbers show more than just an edge over Clinton’s performance last month — they also show the depth and substance of his campaign.

“One can argue that for him to raise so much cash in this political climate is even more impressive than the number of contests he’s won or the number of delegates he’s managed to amass,” Groff told BlackAmericaWeb.com.

“That much money has allowed him to maintain the kind of hype the campaign has generated while building on more excitement,” he said. “Plus, it continues sending a signal that he’s the stronger candidate and that he can, potentially, outperform the Republican nominee in fundraising and other areas during a general match-up. He needs that kind of excitement to propel his campaign, particuarly on the eve of the March 4th primaries.”

Last week, the Obama campaign announced that more than one million Americans had donated to his campaign — a milestone by all presidential campaign standards.

“When I announced my candidacy a little over a year ago, I knew we wouldn’t be able to compete unless hundreds of thousands of ordinary people got involved and took a personal stake in this campaign,” Obama said in a statement. “As of today, over one million people have donated — an extraordinary outpouring that has exceeded everybody’s expectations.”

“I’m humbled by this historic total, and I’m proud of the fact that 90 percent of our contributions have come in amounts of $100 or less, and that we haven’t taken a dime from Washington lobbyists or special interest PACs.” he said. “Because so many ordinary people are participating this time, each day our improbable goal becomes more and more probable.”

Last week, the Clinton campaign released this statement to rally its troops: “The media has anointed Barack Obama the presumptive nominee and he’s playing the part….The Obama campaign and its allies are outspending us two to one in paid media and have sent more staff into the March 4 states. In fact, when all is totaled, Senator Obama and his allies have outspent Senator Clinton by a margin of $18.4 million to $9.2 million on advertising in the four states that are voting next Tuesday. ….If he cannot win all of these states with all this effort, there’s a problem.”

A survey by the Associated Press showed that of the 796 superdelegates, Clinton has backing from 242, Obama has support from 188, and the remainder are uncommitted or unknown.

Groff said Obama is able to continue solidifying his dominance while earning the amount of flexibility needed to spend dollars on advertising, messaging, canvassing and other critical operational areas.

“Another point we should not ignore: This story continues to highlight an important chapter in the political maturity and progress of African-American political candidates,” Groff said.

“There was a time, not so long ago, where many black political candidates and elected officials running for office could not begin to imagine raising this much money for a campaign,” he said. “One constant, troubling issue for black candidates is fundraising; in politics, the amount of money raised determines the winner in a race.”

“Since the 2006 elections and especially during this 2008 presidential election, we’ve seen signals of that trend reversing as African-American candidates are becoming much more savvy in fundraising,” Groff added. “Let’s hope that trend continues.”