Today on the presidential campaign trail

April 8, 2008 1:49:14 PM PDT

Next commander in chief among those questioning top U.S. commander in Iraq ... Clinton criticizes Colombian trade deal in wake of aide's departure ... Poll shows Pa. race tightening in Obama's favor ... Clinton counters Obama spending edge with 5 targeted ads in Pennsylvania


Petraeus faces next president

WASHINGTON (AP) - The top military commander in Iraq faced the next commander in chief Tuesday, delivering a status report that could shape the campaign for the presidency.

All three candidates - Sens. John McCain, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama - sit on committees that received an assessment of the war's progress from Army Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker.

Their political division over the war - McCain supports a continuation while the Democrats say they would withdraw troops - spilled over into the congressional hearing room. Clinton began her appearance by chastising McCain - without mentioning him by name - for saying Democratic calls for a withdrawal are irresponsible and show a "lack of leadership."

"I fundamentally disagree," Clinton said, reading from prepared remarks that aides said she wrote. "Rather, I think it could be fair to say that it might well be irresponsible to continue the policy that has not produced the results that have been promised time and time again."

As the senior Republican on the Armed Services Committee, McCain was the first candidate to speak. He argued that "much more needs to be done" on security, political and economic fronts, but that "we are no longer staring into the abyss of defeat, and we can now look ahead to the genuine prospect of success."

Obama serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which scheduled an afternoon round of testimony.

"The most important issue is still the one that was asked in September which is how has this war made us safer and at what point do we know that there is success so we can start bringing our troops home," he told NBC's "Today Show."


Clinton denounces Colombian trade deal

WASHINGTON (AP) - Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton emphasized her opposition to a proposed free trade agreement with Colombia, two days after her chief campaign strategist was demoted for his role in supporting the deal.

"As I have said for months, I oppose the deal, I have spoken out against the deal, I will vote against the deal and I will do everything I can to urge the Congress to reject the Colombia free trade agreement," the New York Democrat told a Washington gathering of the Communication Workers of America.

On Sunday, Mark Penn left his post as top strategist for Clinton's presidential campaign after it was reported he had met with Colombia's ambassador to the United States to discuss passage of the agreement. Colombia was a client of Penn's large public relations firm, Burson-Marsteller.

Many labor unions, including the CWA, oppose such trade deals, saying they displace U.S. jobs and encourage abuses of workers and the environment in other countries.

Clinton's Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, also noted his opposition to the Colombia deal when he spoke to the CWA group moments after Clinton left the stage. He said he opposes the treaty "because when organizing workers puts an organizer's life at risk, as it does in Colombia, it makes a mockery of our labor protections."


Poll: Obama closing gap in Pa.

WASHINGTON (AP) - While her margin continues to shrink, Hillary Rodham Clinton still has a 6-point lead over Barack Obama in the Democratic presidential race in Pennsylvania, a survey shows.

Clinton has 50 percent to Obama's 44 percent two weeks before Pennsylvania holds its primary, according to a Quinnipiac University poll. The same poll showed the former first lady ahead by 9 percentage points a week ago and 12 percentage points in mid-March.

Obama remains more popular among the state's black voters, 75 percent to 17 percent, and Clinton does better among whites, 56 percent to 38 percent. As in past surveys, Clinton leads among older voters and Obama leads among younger ones.

The Quinnipiac University poll was conducted by telephone from April 3-6. It involved interviews with 1,340 likely Democratic voters in Pennsylvania. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.


Clinton airs 5 new ads in Pa.

WASHINGTON (AP) - Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is targeting Pennsylvania media markets with five new television ads that deliver specific messages to different regional and ethnic audiences.

Her campaign began airing the ads Tuesday, three in the expensive Philadelphia market where polls show that rival Sen. Barack Obama has been gaining support.

The ads come as Obama has been outspending Clinton in Pennsylvania, with the state's April 22 primary only two weeks away. As of Sunday, Obama had spent $3.6 million in the state to Clinton's $1.3 million, according to data compiled by TNS Media Intelligence/Campaign Media Analysis Group.

As the ads went up, the Clinton campaign also sent out a fundraising appeal to counter Obama's spending advantage in the state.



Barack Obama has an 8-point lead nationally over Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic presidential race, 51 percent to her 43 percent, in the latest Gallup Poll. The survey had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The poll was conducted April 5-7 and involved interviews with 1,242 Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters. The survey was a tracking poll, in which Gallup interviews voters every night and uses the results from the three most recent evenings.



Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama addressed the Communications Workers of America at a conference in Washington.



John McCain attended a Vets for Freedom rally in Washington.



"There's clearly a difference between the senior strategist and somebody who is playing a role in strategy. ... The difference would be the difference between the editor in chief of your newspaper and somebody who plays an important role at the newspaper but isn't in charge." - Howard Wolfson, a spokesman for Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking to reporters about Mark Penn, who was demoted from the campaign's chief strategist.



More than 8.3 million people are registered in Pennsylvania. That figure is expected to increase as state officials continue to process applications. The number of Democrats stands at 4.2 million - an increase of 8 percent since last fall's election. The Republican total is 3.2 million - a decline of about 2 percent.


Compiled by Ann Sanner.