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Clinton, Obama argue divisive politics

Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton needs wins in both Ohio and Texas to keep her campaign afloat.
/ Source: msnbc.com news services

Hillary Rodham Clinton focused on her foreign policy credentials Monday as a new poll in the key state of Ohio showed that the former first lady's lead over rival Barack Obama has dropped 10 percentage points in recent days.

Republican John McCain campaigned in Ohio, and told reporters in order to win the White House he must convince a war-weary country that U.S. policy in Iraq is succeeding. He then backed off the remark, saying merely that Iraq would be a part of voters' judgment of his ability to handle national security.

The five-year-old Iraq conflict already is emerging as a fault line in the general election, with the Arizona senator calling for the U.S. military continuing its mission while his Democratic opponents urge quick withdrawal.

Clinton delivered a foreign policy speech Monday characterizing Obama as rash and inconsistent on foreign policy issues.

"He wavers from seeming to believe that mediation and meetings without preconditions can solve some of the world's most intractable problems to advocating rash, unilateral military action without the cooperation of our allies in the most sensitive part of the world," Clinton said in a speech at The George Washington University.

She also released a statement listing senior retired military and defense officials who have endorsed her as U.S. president. They include Gen. Wesley Clark and Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, who led the 2004 U.S. Army investigation into prisoner abuse at the Iraqi prison of Abu Ghraib.

Obama has dominated the Democratic Party's race for the White House nomination since the Feb. 5 "Super Tuesday" series of contests, sweeping 11 races and capturing the lead in the all-important delegate count. Clinton, facing the must-win Democratic presidential nomination battles next week in Ohio and Texas, is faltering, but has insisted her campaign is on track and moving forward.

The two states offer a total 334 delegates, and former President Bill Clinton has said his wife probably needs to win both of them if she is to win the Democratic presidential nomination. Obama currently has 1,362 delegates to Clinton's 1,266. A total of 2,025 are needed to secure the Democratic nomination at the party's convention in late August in Denver.

[There are differences in how news organization count delegates, how they award superdelegates, how they account for states that have held caucuses but have not yet chosen their delegates, how they project the apportionment of delegates within Congressional districts where the vote was close. The Associated Press and NBC news conduct separate delegate counts. NBC News has not yet awarded the 796 superdelegates. NBC's national delegate count stands at 1,036 for Clinton and 1,192 for Obama.]

Recent polls show the race in Texas to be a statistical dead heat. A Quinnipiac University poll released Monday showed that Clinton's 11-percentage-point lead in Ohio has fallen since a Feb. 14 survey by the same organization showed her ahead by 21 points. She has 51 percent compared with Obama's 40 percent, according to the poll. It had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.

A second Ohio Poll sponsored by the University of Cincinnati found Clinton ahead with 47 percent and Obama with 39 percent. That poll had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

On Monday, the two campaigns also traded accusations of divisive politics over after a photograph circulated in the Internet of Obama dressed in traditional local garments during a visit to Kenya in 2006. The gossip and news Web site The Drudge Report posted the photograph Monday and said it was being circulated by Clinton staffers.

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe immediately accused Clinton's campaign of "the most shameful, offensive fear-mongering we've seen from either party in this election."

Obama's foreign policy adviser, Susan Rice, said the circulation of the photograph was divisive and suggests "that the customs and cultures of other parts of the world are worthy of ridicule or condemnation."

The Clinton campaign did not comment on the distribution of the photo, but campaign manager Maggie Williams said the Obama campaign's reaction was inflaming passions and distracting voters.

"Enough," Williams said in a statement. "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.

"This is nothing more than an obvious and transparent attempt to distract from the serious issues confronting our country today and to attempt to create the very divisions they claim to decry."

The Republican race is considered settled in favor of McCain, the veteran Arizona senator and a former Vietnam prisoner of war.

On Sunday, Republican Party members in Puerto Rico awarded all their 20 delegates to McCain. A day earlier, McCain received nine delegates each from American Samoa and the Northern Marianas in the Pacific. He also picked up endorsements from two unpledged delegates elsewhere.

That gives McCain a total of 998 of the 1,191 delegates needed to clinch the nomination at the Republican convention in September in St. Paul, Minnesota. Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, trails with 254 delegates.

[The Associated Press and NBC news conduct separate delegate counts. NBC's national delegate count stands at 903 for McCain and 246 for Huckabee.]