Analysis: Obama wants voters to remember Clinton's past


Barack Obama wants to make sure that voters do, even if it was 16 years ago that Hillary Rodham Clinton created an uproar when she sniffed that she could have given up her career and "stayed home, baked cookies and had teas."

While Clinton brought up the problems Obama could face in a general election if he's nominated, Obama used a two-hour debate Wednesday night to remind Americans what they don't like about his opponent and her husband, Bill, the former president. Both candidates argued they were tough enough to withstand whatever Republicans try to use against them.

Obama raised President Clinton's controversial pardons on his last day in office. And he wanted Americans to know that Hillary Clinton repeatedly called him names in the past few days.

The point was to tie Clinton to the divisive politics of the past at a time when a new poll shows that a majority of voters view her as dishonest. The loss of voters' trust comes as Clinton has been attacking Obama for comments he made recently about Pennsylvania voters who "cling to guns or religion" because they are "bitter" about the economy - statements that he maintains he mangled.

"During the course of the last few days, you know, she's said I'm elitist, out of touch, condescending," Obama said.

"You take one person's statement, if it's not properly phrased, and you just beat it to death," he added. "And that's what Senator Clinton's been doing over the last four days."

Despite the signs that her criticisms may be backfiring, Clinton did not pull her punches against Obama. Yet she tried to soften the blows by delivering them in polite tones and often with a smile. She said his "bitter" comments demonstrated a misunderstanding of religion in people's lives. And she said he has other weaknesses that could hurt him in the general election - his relationship with a controversial pastor and 1960s radical William Ayers.

"I've been in this arena for a long time," Clinton said. "I have a lot of baggage, and everybody has rummaged through it for years. And so, therefore, I have an opportunity to come to this campaign with a very strong conviction and feeling that I will be able to withstand whatever the Republicans send our way."

Obama wanted to make sure voters remembered some of that baggage, but he also raised it in measured tones. He used sympathetic terms in bringing up the cookie quote that led critics to label Clinton as some sort of ultra-feminist.

"She has gone through this," Obama said. "I recall when, back in 1992, when she made a statement about how, what do you expect, should I be at home baking cookies? And people attacked her for being elitist and this and that. And I remember watching that on TV and saying, `Well, that's not who she is. That's not what she believes. That's not what she meant.'

"And I think Senator Clinton learned the wrong lesson from it because she's adopting the same tactics," Obama said.

Clinton said she was concerned about Obama's association with Ayers, a former member of the Weather Underground who Clinton pointed out said in an interview published on Sept. 11, 2001, that he didn't regret bombing government buildings. Obama quickly responded that Clinton's husband pardoned one member of Weather Underground and commuted the sentence of another.

"Look, there is no doubt that the Republicans will attack either of us," Obama said. "What I've been able to display during the course of this primary is that I can take a punch. I've taken some pretty good ones from Senator Clinton."


EDITOR'S NOTE - Nedra Pickler covers the Democratic presidential campaign for The Associated Press.

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