WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton called rival Barack Obama a risky choice to lead U.S. foreign policy even as Obama gained ground in the battleground U.S. states of Ohio and Texas on Monday.
With a week to go until a potentially pivotal vote in the two states on March 4, the Democratic race took on an increasingly negative tone. Clinton needs big victories there to salvage her campaign to be the Democratic nominee in the November election after losing 11 straight contests to Obama.
The Obama campaign accused the Clinton camp of “the most shameful, offensive fear-mongering” when a photograph of the Illinois senator, dressed as a Somali elder with white headdress and matching robe, turned up on the popular Drudge Report Web site.
“I think the American people are saddened when they see these kind of politics,” Obama told WOAI radio in San Antonio.
The Drudge Report said the photo was taken in 2006 during Obama’s visit to northeastern Kenya. The Democratic front-runner has fought a whispering campaign from fringe elements that say erroneously he is a Muslim.
The Web site said in an accompanying article the photo had been circulated by Clinton campaign staffers. The Clinton campaign said it had not sanctioned the photo’s release but that with 700 staffers it could not be known whether someone had sent it out unofficially.
“If Barack Obama’s campaign wants to suggest that a photo of him wearing traditional Somali clothing is divisive, they should be ashamed. Hillary Clinton has worn the traditional clothing of countries she has visited and had those photos published widely,” Clinton campaign manager Maggie Williams said.
In a foreign policy speech, Clinton said Obama had veered between pledging to meet leaders of hostile nations like Iran and Cuba if elected in November to warning of U.S. military action against al Qaeda targets in Pakistan.
“He wavers from seeming to believe that mediation and meetings without preconditions can solve the world’s intractable problems, to advocating rash, unilateral military action without cooperation from our allies in the most sensitive region of the world,” Clinton said.
A Quinnipiac University poll said Clinton led Obama in Ohio by 51 percent to 40 percent among likely Democratic voters.
That was a narrowing from the lead of 55 percent to 34 percent she held less than two weeks ago, and was a sign that Obama’s momentum was paying dividends in Ohio.
A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll said Obama had edged ahead of Clinton in Texas, 50 percent to 46 percent, after having been behind her narrowly last week.
‘TESTED AND READY’
Clinton’s criticism of Obama for pledging to meet leaders such as Raul Castro, who took over in Cuba from his brother Fidel Castro, was particularly biting.
“We simply cannot legitimize rogue regimes or weaken American prestige by impulsively agreeing to presidential-level talks with no preconditions. It may sound good, but it doesn’t meet the real world test of foreign policy,” she said.
Obama was unmoved. At a rally in Cincinnati, he reiterated his pledge to meet hostile foreign leaders if elected.
“We need to rediscover the power of diplomacy. So I said very early on in this campaign that I will meet not just with our friends but with our enemies, not just the leaders I like, but leaders I don’t,” he said.
Clinton said Americans took a chance on President George W. Bush, who had little foreign policy experience when elected and led the country into the unpopular Iraq war. She suggested the 46-year-old Obama was similarly inexperienced.
“We’ve seen the tragic result of having a president who had neither the experience nor the wisdom to manage our foreign policy and safeguard our national security. We can’t let that happen again,” she said.
Clinton, who has touted her years as first lady and New York senator since 2001, used the speech to describe herself as “tested and ready” to lead U.S. foreign policy at a time of turmoil, including wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, countries seeking nuclear weapons and challenges caused by poverty and
Clinton, after a fairly civil debate with Obama last Thursday in Texas during which she said she was honored to share the stage with him, has toughened her message in the past few days.
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason in Ohio and Jim Forsyth in San Antonio; Editing by Peter Cooney)
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