Obama, Clinton, and the Negative Campaign Turn
WATERLOO, Iowa -- Sen. Barack Obama said questions about his past and his political experience, raised in recent days by the Clinton campaign, are a predictable turn of events as the race tightens for the Democratic nomination.
He also vowed to fire any campaign staffer who engages in personal attacks against his opponents. "I do not want to see research that is involved in trying to tear people down personally," said Obama. "That's not what I believe in. That's not where I am."
As for the Clintons, "When I was 20 points down, they thought I was a wonderful guy. So, obviously things have changed here in Iowa and elsewhere in the country," Obama told reporters at a news conference between rallies in northeastern Iowa. And he added, the tactics recall the bitter partisanship that marked the Clinton White House years and that still simmers today in Washington. "That's the kind of politics we've become accustomed to," Obama said.
He described his brief meeting with Clinton on Thursday, initiated by the former First Lady in order to apologize for comments by a senior campaign official about Obama's teenage drug use, described in his memoir. The official, Bill Shaheen, husband of former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, predicted that Republicans would pounce on the disclosure, raising questions about Obama's viability as a general election candidate. After an uproar that included a flood of angry phone calls to the Clinton campaign, Shaheen resigned.
"I said I appreciated the apology," Obama recounted. "I suggested that all campaigns have surrogates who are eager to have their candidates win, and it was important for us as the heads of our campaigns to make sure that we're sending a clear message that this is not the kind of tone that we should tolerate."
As for teenage drug use, the senator said, "I do think that the average American believes that what somebody does when they were a teenager 30 years ago is probably not relevant to how they are going to be performing as commander in chief and president of the United States. I think people have pretty good judgment about that."
Obama tossed back a remark by President Clinton during his 1992 campaign to answer questions by both Clintons about Obama's short political resume (he was elected to the U.S. Senate two years ago, after eight years in the Illinois state Senate). The Clinton campaign believes one of Obama's greatest vulnerability is his short tenure in public office, especially with the country at war, and the issue is expected to surface again and again in the weeks ahead.
"Here's a quote," said Obama. "The same old experience is irrelevant. You can have the right kind of experience or the wrong kind of experience. And mine is rooted in the real lives of real people and it will bring real results if we have the courage to change. And that was Bill Clinton in 1992."
"The notion that there is a particular kind of experience that he has had, or his wife has had, that is more relevant, I would disagree," he continued. "I believe I have the experience that the country needs right now. I think that's why we're doing relatively well in this race."
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