Obama attacks Clinton's gas tax plan

May 3, 2008 8:11:33 PM PDT
Broadening his attack, Barack Obama said Saturday that Hillary Rodham Clinton's support for a summertime break from the federal gasoline tax symbolizes a candidacy consisting of "phony ideas, calculated to win elections instead of actually solving problems." "We've seen this from him before," the former first lady shot back as the next round of primaries approached. "Instead of attacking the problem, he's attacking my solutions."

Locked in a Democratic presidential race for the ages, the two rivals campaigned across Indiana and North Carolina. Obama eked out a seven-vote victory in the Guam caucuses half-a-world away, and he and Clinton both added to their delegate totals statewide.

The four delegates at stake in Guam remained to be allocated. Until they are, The Associated Press total shows Obama with 1738.5 delegates, to Clinton's 1606.5. It takes 2,025 to clinch the nomination at the party convention in Denver in August.

Obama campaigned across Indiana with his wife, Michelle, their daughters, Sasha, 6, and Malia, 9 in tow. It was a day any kid would cherish - an airplane ride, a visit to a playground while their parents campaigned nearby, capped off with roller skating to a blaring beat at Great Skates in Lafayette, Ind.

Clinton's 28-year-old daughter, Chelsea, often appears as a surrogate campaigner for her mother, but she figured in the race in another way during the day.

"Chelsea was a teenager in White House, which meant that the Secret Service went on her dates," the former first lady recalled in a discussion with several working mothers. "A lot of her girlfriends' mothers loved it when they double dated because there was a guy with a gun in the front seat," she said to laughter from the audience.

Laughter and little girls aside, the gasoline tax issue has emerged as a key dividing line in the days before next week's primaries in a marathon race.

Obama included a mention of it in a two-minute ad his campaign was airing as the two primaries wound down. He said in his speech that Clinton "had to send a surrogate to speak out on behalf of this plan and all she could find - get this, a lobbyist from Shell Oil to explain how this was going to be good for consumers."

Clinton saw it differently. Obama is "attacking my plan to try to get you some kind of break this summer," she said at one point.

A spokesman, Phil Singer, "Considering that Sen. Obama voted to suspend the gas tax three times when gas cost less than $2 a gallon and has an energy lobbyist chairing his Indiana campaign, it's hard to take his latest criticisms very seriously."

Clinton and Republican Sen. John McCain have both proposed suspending the levy from Memorial Day to Labor Day as a way of providing relief from record gasoline prices for consumers. Obama opposes the plan, saying it would save a mere 30 cents a day and cost thousands of construction jobs. Money from the tax goes into a federal fund that pays for highway projects such as bridge and road construction.

Beyond the arguments for and against the tax, the issue has assumed a far larger significance in recent days - Clinton using it to buttress her argument that her rival is out of touch with the needs of working-class Americans, Obama citing it as an example of his opponent's embrace of what he calls old-style politics.

His campaign also contacted reporters to inform them that North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley, a Clinton supporter, opposes the gas tax proposal.

"Only in Washington can you get away with calling someone out of touch when you're the one who thinks that 30 cents a day is enough to help people who are struggling in this economy," Obama said in a speech at a school in Indianapolis.

He cited a published report in which an unidentified Clinton aide was quoted as saying the proposal wouldn't have much of an impact on gasoline prices, but was a good political position to take.

"This is what passes for leadership in Washington - phony ideas, calculated to win elections instead of actually solving problems," he said.

Mocking other Clinton campaign themes, he added: "I wish I could stand up here and tell you that we could fix our energy problems with a holiday. I wish I could tell you that we can take a time-out from trade and bring back the jobs that have gone overseas. I wish I could promise that on day one of my presidency, I could pass every plan and proposal I've outlined in this campaign.

A few hours later, Clinton toughened her rhetoric in turn as she reached out to hard-pressed Americans. "This is part of a larger difference between us. ... You've got to make up your minds about who really is on your side," she said in Mooresville, N.C. "I believe I have what it takes to stand up and fight for you."

She said Obama opposed her recommendations for dealing with the mortgage foreclosure crisis and supports a health care plan that will "leave out at least 15 million Americans" while making it more expensive for everyone else.

"So there is a big difference between us and the question is this: Who understands what you're going through and who will stand up for you? That's what I want you to think about.

"I understand what families are going through because I've never lost touch in talking to them and listening to them," she said.

In the delegate competition, Obama picked up one each in Maryland, South Carolina and New Mexico. Clinton countered with one from Maryland.