In the final weekend of campaigning before Tuesday’s Pennsylvania primary, Sen. Barack Obama was talking about cynicism and Sen. Hillary Clinton about China.
In speeches five miles apart in the crucial battleground of Chester County, the two candidates whipped up enthusiasm among supporters and aimed for those crucial 10-second sound bites on local news broadcasts.
On Monday, Obama predicted his rival would get the victory in Pennsylvania primary, but said his goal is to keep it close.
Perhaps because of that goal, Obama seemed to focus his weekend fire sharply on Clinton herself and to some degree on her husband.
“If you are feeling cynical and your basic attitude is, ‘You know what? Things can’t really change,’ then you may decide Sen. Clinton’s your choice,” Obama told his supporters at the Downingtown train station.
He explained that voters might decide “that’s the game that’s played in Washington and we just want somebody who knows how to play the game.”
Obama knocks Clinton and lobbyists
Obama called his rival “a formidable candidate” (adding the adjective “tenacious” the next day at his Reading rally) but added, “Sen. Clinton essentially buys into the kind of politics that we’ve become accustomed to in Washington.”
He knocked Clinton for saying that lobbyists “represent real people. I think she is fundamentally wrong about that.”
Clinton’s speech to a crowd of supporters at the Good Will Fire Company Number 2 on Union Street in West Chester, Pa., a few hours earlier did not mention Obama at all.
Instead she talked about the stakes in the November election, painting a portrait of sinister foreign — especially Chinese — economic and strategic power.
“China is filling vacuums everywhere in the world that we are not there to contest,” she warned.
“We are totally dependent on borrowing from foreign governments,” she said. “If you think about it, our economy runs on foreign money and foreign oil. So every morning we have to hope the bankers in Beijing and Seoul and Riyadh get up and say ‘I think we’ll buy some of America’s debt today.’ We are totally at their mercy.”
She added, “We have a huge trade deficit where we basically borrow money from these countries, principally China and others that are exporting to us, so that we can turn around and borrow from them.”
Will China dominate the 21st century?
She said later, “There are people, let’s face it, around the world who believe that America’s best days are behind us.”
The crowd cried, “Nooo!”
Then she said, “I had a discussion the other day with one of the generals who is supporting me and he had just come from China and he said the Chinese are convinced that the 21st century is their century.”
According to this unnamed American general, a Chinese military officer said to him, “That’s the way history worked. The British Empire handed off to the American. You’re going to hand it off to us.”
Again Clinton’s supporters yelled out, “Nooo!”
But she told them in a chiding voice, “Well, that’s what they believe, and they have a plan, and they are very focused on what they need to do. They are building a blue-water navy to contest us in the Pacific.”
Criticism of Clinton 1996 welfare reform
The next day (Sunday) in Reading, it was Obama’s questioners in the Q-and-A session that got in some sharp anti-Clinton digs.
“I believe that President Clinton took off welfare, made people poor, then sold our jobs out to the point where I have seen people eating out of the trash,” said the first woman to stand up and ask Obama a question.
Another questioner, Diana Rivera-O’Brian, a community activist in Reading, complained about a Clinton administration policy that, she claimed, evicted tenants in public housing if anyone with a criminal record visited them.
Obama took the opportunity to express his support for the 1996 welfare reform law, but added that it needed some changes to better support single mothers while they worked.
Obama told Rivera-O’Brian that if a grandmother in public housing knew her grandson was selling drugs she ought to be held to account.
Obama himself got in a criticism of former president Bill Clinton.
While saying he disagreed with ex-president Jimmy Carter’s meeting with leaders of the Hamas group in Syria last week, he added, “What I also strongly disagree with is a habit of American presidents, which is every president in their last year they finally decide we’re going to try to broker a peace deal. Bill Clinton did it, in his last year and he ran out of time.”
He likened Clinton to President Bush also starting a peace initiative late in his second term.
Obama on top in the TV ad war
Even with the rival candidates' hectic schedule of rallies across the state most Pennsylvania voters will not see Clinton or Obama in person.
For them, the message is delivered in the TV ad barrage. In the final weekend before the primary, Obama had the upper hand, at least in terms of the number of 30-second spots aired on local NBC Philadelphia affiliate, WCAU.
On Sunday’s 11 p.m. local new broadcast, Obama and his ally, the Service Employees International Union, aired four spots. Clinton had only two.
According to Federal Election Commission records, in the five days starting last Wednesday, the union and one of its locals have spent $1.2 million in TV ads, direct mail and other efforts for Obama.
“Now in the final hours, she’s launched the most misleading and negative ad of the campaign,” Obama’s first ad to air in the 11:00 hour said, referring to Clinton’s latest TV spot. “Eleventh-hour smears, paid for by lobbyist money.”
WCAU viewers then got to see Clinton herself on the news broadcast saying, “It’s no wonder that my opponent has been so negative in these last few days of the campaign because I think you saw a big difference between us (in last week’s debate). It’s really a choice of leadership.”
Then another Obama ad came on to tout his endorsements by local newspapers: “'Obama can change the way business is done in Washington,’ says the Philadelphia Daily News.”
Clinton focuses on recession
A few minutes later one of Clinton’s ads aired — a gloomy one saying, “Now the economy is sliding into recession. Home values are plummeting. … America is desperate for economic leadership.”
Then on the TV screen appeared the now-familiar face of the ordinary working guy in the camouflage hunter’s cap and gray sweatshirt, filling his gas tank. Without spilling a drop, he looked out at the camera and said, “We need a president who will stand up to big oil.” This was the ubiquitous Service Employees International Union ad for Obama.
The sports and weather came on WCAU and then it was Clinton’s latest ad, “In the last ten years Obama has taken almost $2 million from lobbyists, corporations and PACs. The head of his New Hampshire campaign is a drug company lobbyist.”
A short break to wrap up the WCAU newscast and then at 11:29 pm it was time for a reprise of Obama’s “eleventh-hour smears” ad.
Come Monday morning, and the early news shows, the next Obama-Clinton TV ad barrage would begin all over again.