Obama announces a change in tactics

Presidential hopeful says he will focus on policies of Clinton, the Democratic favorite

October 28, 2007|By New York Times News Service

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Sen. Barack Obama plans to start confronting Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton more directly and forcefully, saying Friday that she had not been candid in describing her views on critical policy issues, as he tries to address alarm among supporters that his lack of assertiveness has allowed her to dominate the presidential race.

Obama's vow to take the offensive comes just over two months before the first votes are cast for the Democratic nomination, and after a long period in which his aides, donors and other supporters have battled - and in some cases shared - the perception that he has not exhibited the aggressiveness demanded by presidential politics.

In an interview aboard a chartered jet on Friday, Obama said that "now is the time" for him to distinguish himself from Clinton. The interview was initiated by Obama's campaign to signal the change of course.

While he said that he was not out to "kneecap the front-runner, because I don't think that's what the country is looking for," he said she was deliberately obscuring her positions for political gain and was less likely than he was to win back the White House for Democrats.

Asked in the interview if Clinton had been fully truthful with voters about what she would do as president, Obama replied, "No."

"I don't think people know what her agenda exactly is," Obama continued, mentioning Social Security, Iraq and Iran as issues on which he said she had not been fully forthcoming. "Now it's been very deft politically, but one of the things that I firmly believe is that we've got to be clear with the American people right now about the important choices that we're going to need to make in order to get a mandate for change, not to try to obfuscate and avoid being a target in the general election and then find yourself governing without any support for any bold propositions."

For months, Democrats, including some within his campaign, have questioned whether Obama's promise to pursue a brand of politics that transcended partisanship had so handcuffed him that he could not compete in the most partisan of arenas.

In the interview, Obama acknowledged that he had held back until now, though he asserted that it had been a calculated decision to introduce himself in early-voting states before engaging opponents. He said he occasionally took lines out of speeches prepared by his campaign that he felt were "stretching the truth."

But the Illinois senator said the plan had always been for him to begin taking on Clinton more directly in the fall. "It is absolutely true that we have to make these distinctions clearer," he said. "And I will not shy away from doing that."

The interview came amid growing signs that Obama was looking for a fresh start for his campaign.

He has built up his campaign war room, occasionally traveling with a speechwriter - reflecting concern of his aides that he tends to be long-winded - and begun spending more money on television advertising in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Morale at his Chicago headquarters, aides said, has been dragged down by the perception that Clinton is lapping Obama. And aides said they had been struggling for weeks for a balance between offering a contrast with Clinton and avoiding anger that would put voters off.

Obama suggested that Clinton is too divisive to win a general election and that if she did win, she would be unable to bring together competing factions in Washington to accomplish anything.

"There is a legacy that is both an enormous advantage to her in a Democratic primary, but also a disadvantage to her in a general election," he said. "I don't think anybody would claim that Senator Clinton is going to inspire a horde of new voters.

"I don't think it's realistic that she is going to get a whole bunch of Republicans to think differently about her."

Asked about Obama's remarks, Clinton's spokesman, Howard Wolfson, said: "Senator Obama once promised Americans a politics of hope. But now that his campaign has stalled, he is abandoning that strategy and is engaging in the same old-style personal attacks that he once rejected. We are confident that voters will reject this strategy, especially from a candidate who told us he would do better."

Obama said he was not concerned by polls showing lopsided support for Clinton. "The national press for the last three months has written glowingly about her and not so much about me, so it's not surprising," he said. He described himself as an "underdog" running against a campaign that has "a 20-year head start when it comes to managing the spin of the national politics."

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