Clinton, Obama clash in personal terms

January 6, 2008 6:24:25 PM PST
Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton clashed Sunday in the slushy New Hampshire homestretch, deriding each others' claims to be the true candidate of change. Clinton told Democratic voters they should elect "a doer, not a talker." Obama countered that his critics are stuck in the politics of the past. At a raucous rally in a high school gymnasium in Nashua, Clinton skewered Obama for several votes he has cast in the Senate, such as his vote in favor of the Patriot Act and for energy legislation she described as "Dick Cheney's energy bill." She never mentioned Obama's name but left no doubt about whom she was discussing.

"You campaign in poetry, you govern in prose," Clinton said.

Obama, speaking at a packed Manchester theater, took issue with Clinton's criticism of him during Saturday's Democratic presidential debate.

"One of my opponents said we can't just, you know, offer the American people false hopes about what we can get done," he said.

"The real gamble in this election is to do the same things, with the same folks, playing the same games over and over and over again and somehow expect a different result," he said. "That is a gamble we cannot afford, that is a risk we cannot take. Not this time. Not now. It is time to turn the page."

Tuesday's primary could be pivotal for the Democrats. Obama, the freshman Illinois senator, is hoping to sustain momentum from his caucus victory in Iowa, and Clinton is looking to recover from her stinging third place finish.

A CNN/WMUR poll released Saturday found Clinton and Obama tied at 33 percent each in the state, with John Edwards trailing at 20 percent.

Edwards, who barely beat Clinton for second place in Iowa, was joined Sunday by three families who suffered medical tragedies as he made an emotional case against insurance companies. Picking up on a theme from the debates, the former North Carolina senator told reporters that he and Obama offer real change to voters while Clinton represents "the status quo."

He also argued he has more passion for change and would be more willing than Obama to fight for his goals. "He just believes you can negotiate with people," Edwards said of his rival.

Obama aides found themselves on the defensive after Clinton said during Saturday's debate that Obama's New Hampshire campaign co-chairman, Jim Demers, is a lobbyist whose clients include pharmaceutical companies. The Clinton campaign kept up the criticism Sunday morning in a teleconference call with reporters, noting that Obama has repeatedly said he does not take money from federal lobbyists or political action committees.

Obama communications director Robert Gibbs said Demers is a state lobbyist and does not do business involving federal legislation or regulation. He said the campaign has drawn a distinction between lobbyists who are registered to work at the state level and those who lobby the federal government.

"A ban on lobbying money and PACs is far from perfect," Gibbs said. "There is a difference between a college football player and professional football player," he added.

During the debate, while Clinton referred to Demers, the camera caught Obama shaking his head, saying "not so."

"He was shaking his head because her implication was that it violated our lobbyist pledge and his role quite clearly does not," Obama spokesman Bill Burton said.

Obama sounded an upbeat tone throughout the day, telling New Hampshire crowds their votes could propel him to the Democratic nomination.

"You will have the chance to change America in two days time," he said. "In two days we can do what the cynics said could not be done. We will have the chance to come together, Democrats, Republicans, independents and announce that we are one nation, we are one people and it is time for change in America. This is our moment, this is our time."

The former first lady was clearly elated to be greeted by a large, enthusiastic audience of her own in the same Nashua high school that Obama filled the day before. Both candidates had to use a second gym for the overflow crowd.

She took questions from several audience members after delivering a short, spirited stump speech - a marked contrast to her final appearances in Iowa, where she would give an hourlong campaign address and leave, generally without taking questions.

Earlier, she and daughter Chelsea braved slushy sidewalks to go door to door in Manchester for about an hour seeking votes.

After leaving one house, Clinton was asked by a TV reporter how she felt about the Democratic debate the night before.

"Really good," the senator said. "We're starting to draw a contrast for New Hampshire voters between talkers and doers."

Maura Labrie, a first grade teacher, said she was undecided but had told Clinton she had liked her debate performance.

"I liked how you said it hurt your feelings," Labrie said, referring to a question that said polls showed she lacked likability.

Husband Bill was campaigning in North Conway, N.H., sticking to the key word "change."

"There's a different between talk and action. It makes a big difference if you've actually changed people's lives, if it's the work of your life," the former president said.


Associated Press writers Beth Fouhy, Nedra Pickler, Charles Babington and Holly Ramer contributed to this report.