Clinton goes on the attack

February 14, 2008 7:45:26 PM PST
Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton, criticized for taking special interest contributions, sought Thursday to become the populist of the presidential race by proposing restrictions on an array of industries and casting rival Barack Obama as more beholden to corporations.

In stop after stop, she blamed unscrupulous bankers and lenders for the mortgage crisis that has hit states such as Ohio particularly hard. And in a speech to General Motors workers and executives in Lordstown, Clinton trumped Obama's own economic plan from the day before and appeared to be channeling former rival John Edwards' fiery anti-corporate message.

"For seven long years, we've had a government of, by, and for the special interests, and we've had enough," the New York senator told an audience at a General Motors plant that she toured here.

"It's time to level the playing field against the special interests and deliver 21st century solutions to rebuild the middle class."

She said she would rein in oil, insurance, credit card, student loan and Wall Street investment companies and generate $55 billion a year that would be used for middle class tax cuts, create jobs and pay for domestic programs.

Obama on Wednesday visited a GM plant in Janesville, Wis., to unveil a 10-year, $210 billion economic plan to create jobs in construction and environmental industries.

The former first lady was in Ohio to press her strategy of jumping ahead to the biggest March 4 primary states - Texas and Ohio - where she still holds the lead in polls. She is counting on those states to stop a tide that has given Obama eight straight victories since Super Tuesday. Of the 2,025 delegates needed for nomination, Obama now has 1,276; Clinton, 1,220.

Outside Dayton she had a round-table discussion with three families facing the threat of foreclosure. Then, before a crowd of about 2,500 people at Ohio State University in Columbus, she recalled their stories and blamed the Bush administration for not acting swiftly enough to stem the problem.

"It's not just foreclosure on their houses, it's foreclosure on the American dream," Clinton said.

Earlier, waving a pair of blue boxing gloves at the GM plant, Clinton was in a combative mood.

"We need a champion and a fighter in the White House," she declared. The gloves were in honor of middleweight boxing champion Kelly Pavlik of Youngstown, Ohio.

Clinton used the occasion to go after Obama.

"Speeches don't put food on the table," Clinton said. "Speeches don't fill up your tank or fill your prescription or do anything about that stack of bills that keep you up at night. That's the difference between me and my Democratic opponent. My opponent gives speeches. I offer solutions."

She tried to tie him to nuclear interests and blamed him for doing little to stave off job losses in Illinois.

"My opponent says that he'll take on the special interests," she said. "Well, he told people he stood up to the nuclear industry and passed a bill against them. But he actually let the nuclear industry water down his bill. The bill never actually passed."

Clinton was referring to Exelon Corp., a Chicago-based energy giant and nuclear plant operator, whose executives and employees have contributed more than $200,000 to Obama's campaigns since 2004. This month, The New York Times examined whether Obama, at the behest of Exelon lobbyists, had weakened legislation aimed at tightening regulations on the nuclear industry.

"Barack Obama doesn't need any lectures on special interests from the candidate who's taken more money from Washington lobbyists than any Republican running for president," Obama spokesman Bill Burton responded. He said Clinton had co-sponsored the nuclear regulatory legislation she now criticizes.

Clinton's new plan appeared designed to respond to some of the sharpest criticism she has received on the campaign trail from fellow Democrats Obama and Edwards, who dropped out just before Super Tuesday. Both Obama and Clinton have been courting Edwards in hopes of obtaining his endorsement.

Before the South Carolina primary in which Clinton finished second, Edwards aired pointed TV ads contrasting her political donors with his refusal to take contributions from lobbyists and political action committees. Without naming Clinton, one Edwards ad said one of his opponents "takes more money than anyone from Washington lobbyists."

The independent and nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics reported that during the first nine months of 2007 Clinton received $567,950 from donors identified as lobbyists, the most of any of the presidential candidates.

Clinton's visit Thursday was her second to a GM plant this week. She toured a company facility in Maryland on Monday. In Lordstown, she was accompanied by Ohio's Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland and U.S. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, both of whom have endorsed her.

One of Clinton fundraisers is Steve Ricchetti, whose firm has lobbied for General Motors, which has plants in New York state. As a senator from New York, Clinton helped direct $8 million in federal money to GM through earmarks in legislation between 2005 and 2007.

Clinton told the GM workers, "I'm announcing an agenda to rein in the special interests and save the American people at least $55 billion a year. Money that can go back into your pockets. Money we can use to create new jobs, rebuild our infrastructure, make college affordable and so much more."

She said she would force oil companies to invest some of their record profits in high-wage, clean-energy jobs. "I'll end their special tax breaks and given them a choice: Invest some of your profits in alternative energy or we'll do it for you," she said.

"People have been paying through the roof at the pump and it's time the companies paid their fair share."

In addition to earlier proposals to cap interest rates at 30 percent, Clinton said she would prohibit credit card companies from imposing hidden fees and sudden rate hikes.

She promised to stop insurance companies from refusing to cover the pre-existing conditions of their clients, and backed tax revisions to force Wall Street to pay its fair share in taxes.