CINCINNATI (Reuters) - Hillary Clinton slammed rival Barack Obama on Saturday for campaign leaflets on her health-care plan that she called “blatantly false” and accused him of using Republican tactics in their contest for the Democratic U.S. presidential nomination.
In a bitter exchange, Obama defended the leaflet as accurate and campaign spokesman Bill Burton decried Clinton’s “negative campaign.”
“Shame on you, Barack Obama,” Clinton said, speaking to reporters after a rally in Ohio, a state that is key to her struggling campaign.
Brandishing a copy of the leaflet, Clinton said the Obama campaign was spreading “false, misleading, discredited information” about her health-care plan.
“Senator Obama knows it is not true that my plan forces people to buy insurance even if they can’t afford it,” Clinton said. “It is blatantly false and yet he continues to spend millions of dollars perpetuating falsehoods. It is not hopeful. It is destructive, particularly for a Democrat to be discrediting universal health care.”
Obama said the content of the leaflet was correct. He said he was puzzled by the sudden “change in tone” by his rival because the leaflets Clinton referred to were sent out days or weeks ago. He suggested there was something “tactical” about her attacks now.
“The notion that somehow we’re engaging in nefarious tactics I think is pretty hard to swallow,” he told reporters. “There’s nothing in there that’s factually inaccurate.”
Clinton, a New York senator and former first lady, would be the first woman U.S. president if she won the general election, and Obama, an Illinois senator, would be the first black president.
Obama has won 10 consecutive state nominating contests since February 5. The string of victories has put him ahead in the race for delegates to a nominating convention this summer where the party will pick a candidate for the November election.
Many analysts say Clinton must win contests in the delegate-rich states of Ohio and Texas on March 4 to cut Obama’s lead and still have a chance at the nomination.
Campaigning in Ohio, Obama told a roundtable on health care at a hospital in Columbus that his health care plan would cut medical costs more than hers. He also touched on the issue that Clinton had complained about.
“The main difference between us is that Senator Clinton includes a mandate, which means she’d have the government force you to buy health insurance, and she said that she’d consider ‘going after your wages’ if you don’t,” Obama said, adding that he disagreed with that approach.
Meanwhile, Clinton said the campaign leaflet on health care reminded her of health insurance industry attacks on her plan. She also said another leaflet Obama’s campaign issued misrepresented her views on trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.
“Let’s have a real campaign. Enough with the speeches and big rallies and then using tactics that are right out of Karl Rove’s playbook,” she said, referring to the Republican political strategist behind George W. Bush’s winning presidential campaigns.
Obama, speaking to reporters, acknowledged that on the NAFTA mailer, a story using the word “boon” to describe her feelings about the trade accord with Mexico and Canada had been amended after the mailers were sent out.
But he said Clinton referred to NAFTA as a success of her husband Bill Clinton’s presidential administration in her autobiography.
At the earlier rally Clinton had trained her fire on Bush to try to undermine Obama’s message of change. She said Bush, who campaigned on a platform of “compassionate conservatism,” also had promised Americans change.
“He promised change, didn’t he?” she said. “The American people got shafted and we’re going to have to make up for it.”
For his part, Obama criticized Republican front-runner Sen. John McCain’s ties to lobbyists.
“It’s indisputable that ... his top advisers in this campaign are lobbyists, that many of them have been helping their business on campaign bus,” he said in response to questions from reporters. “And he’s comfortable with raising money from lobbyists who are currently active in Washington. I have a problem with that.”
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Vicki Allen and Bill Trott)
To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/