Rivals slam Obama over Reagan praise

January 19, 2008 5:00:08 PM PST
John Edwards and Hillary Rodham Clinton criticized Barack Obama's praise of the Republican Party and Ronald Reagan ? an anathema for many Democrats, particularly union members considered crucial to winning Nevada's Democratic caucuses Saturday.

Obama responded by suggesting Clinton would be a "president whose plans change with the politics of the moment" as part of one of his most direct critiques of the New York senator yet.

The intensity reflects what polls suggest could be a tight contest Saturday as Nevada plays its most prominent role ever in a presidential nominating campaign. Nevada was granted a coveted spot right after Iowa and New Hampshire in an attempt to bring more racial and geographic diversity into the selection.

The novelty means there isn't a reliable way to determine who is likely to turn out at caucuses across the state. In addition, nine caucuses are to be held in casinos for the first time to allow shift workers to participate on a busy holiday weekend ? making the result even more unpredictable.

Obama got a boost when he won the endorsement of the Culinary Workers Union that represents 60,000 housekeepers, bartenders, waiters and other employees on the Las Vegas Strip. Then a judge dismissed an attempt to eliminate the casino caucus sites. But Clinton still holds an edge in most polls.

Edwards, his chances for the presidency diminished by losses to Obama in Iowa and Clinton in New Hampshire, did not run television ads in the state and did not plan to stay in Nevada to wait for results. His schedule Friday had him leaving to campaign in Oklahoma, Missouri and Georgia, among the more than 20 states that vote on Super Tuesday, Feb. 5.

Edwards questioned Obama's commitment to labor in his final appeal to Nevada voters ? a rally with about 100 of his precinct captains in Las Vegas.

"Ronald Reagan, the man who busted unions, the man who did everything in his power to destroy the organized labor movement, the man who created a tax structure that favored the richest Americans against middle class and working families, ... we know that Ronald Reagan is not an example of change for a presidential candidate running in the Democratic Party," Edwards said.

Reagan also "was destructive to the environment by removing a lot of the regulation that existed," Edwards added in a later telephone interview with The Associated Press. "I would never use Ronald Reagan as an example of change."

Obama told the Reno Gazette-Journal editorial board Monday that "Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it," Obama said.

"I think it's fair to say that the Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the last 10 to 15 years in the sense that they were challenging conventional wisdom," Obama told the newspaper.

On Friday in Las Vegas, Clinton responded, "That's not the way I remember the last ten to fifteen years." She said she didn't consider it a better idea to privatize Social Security, eliminate the minimum wage, undercut health benefits, shut down the government or drive the country into debt. "I think we know what needs to be done in America. And I think we're ready to do it. I'm ready to lead on day one."

Obama questioned her claim while campaigning at the University of Nevada Reno. "Senator Clinton has said she is ready to lead from day one, but it's important on day one to get it right, whether you're talking about war or you're talking about economic proposals."

Obama said Clinton recently joined his call for a tax rebate. When she initially announced her economic stimulus plan last week, she said she would consider a tax rebate in the future if the economy worsened.

"This is a larger point that has to be made," he said. "It is easy to be for policies that help working families when it's popular on the campaign trail, but the American people don't want a president whose plans change with the politics of the moment."

Two Obama supporters said they received automated phone calls Friday evening in which the senator was described as supporting a Republican agenda.

Gregory Martin, a financial adviser in Reno, said the caller, who had a woman's voice, said she was calling to bring to his attention recent comments Obama had made "in support of the Republican Party and Bush's vision for America." The call also said Obama was in favor of storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain and was identified as coming from "friends of Hillary Clinton," Martin said.

Amber Erlich, an Obama volunteer from Phoenix, received a similar recorded call at the home of another volunteer in Pioche, Nev., she said. The caller, also a woman, said Obama wants to dump waste at Yucca Mountain and had called the Republican Party "the party of ideas," Erlich said.

The Clinton campaign did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Clinton aides said earlier there were reports of voter intimidation and confusion among Culinary Union members who support Clinton. Some union members thought the union's endorsement of Obama meant they wouldn't be allowed to caucus for Clinton, while others feared retaliation if they chose to caucus for Clinton, the aides said.

"I'm afraid some people may feel that they can't come or they shouldn't come or can't support the candidate of their choice," Clinton herself said during a campaign appearance in Elko. "We know there are some unions in the south who are telling people who to caucus for and if they're not going to caucus for who they choose, don't come at all. I don't think that's right."