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Obama: Clinton's gas tax plan is 'phony'

Barack Obama said Saturday that Hillary Rodham Clinton's support for a summertime break from the federal gasoline tax symbolizes a candidacy consisting of "phony ideas."
/ Source: The Associated Press

Broadening his attack, Barack Obama said Saturday that Hillary Rodham Clinton's support for a summertime break from the federal gasoline tax symbolizes a candidacy consisting of "phony ideas, calculated to win elections instead of actually solving problems."

Not so, the former first lady told a campaign audience as the next round of primaries approached. Obama is "attacking my plan to try to get you some kind of break this summer," she said.

Locked in a Democratic presidential race for the ages, Clinton and Obama campaigned across Indiana and North Carolina at the same time they competed in Guam's caucuses and added to their convention delegate totals in several states.

In all, four delegates were at stake in Guam half a world away from the U.S. mainland. But given the closeness of the race, both candidates made an effort to win.

With the final caucus results unknown, and NBC News calculations show Obama with 1738 delegates to Clinton's 1603. It takes 2,025 to clinch the nomination at the party convention in Denver in August.

Obama campaigned Saturday with his wife, Michelle, and two young daughters, Sasha, 6, and Malia, 9.

Clinton's 27-year-old daughter, Chelsea, often appears as a surrogate campaigner for her mother, but she figured in the race in another way during the day.

"Chelsea was a teenager in White House, which meant that the Secret Service went on her dates," the former first lady recalled in a discussion with several working mothers. "A lot of her girlfriends' mothers loved it when they double dated because there was a guy with a gun in the front seat," she said to laughter from the audience.

Key dividing line
The gasoline tax issue has emerged as a key dividing line in the days before next week's primaries in a marathon race.

Clinton and Republican Sen. John McCain have both proposed suspending the levy from Memorial Day to Labor Day as a way of providing relief from record gasoline prices for consumers. Obama opposes the plan, saying it would save a mere 30 cents a day and cost thousands of construction jobs. Money from the tax goes into a federal fund that pays for highway projects such as bridge and road construction.

Beyond the arguments for and against the tax, the issue has assumed a far larger significance in recent days — Clinton using it to buttress her argument that her rival is out of touch with the needs of working-class Americans, Obama citing it as an example of his opponent's embrace of what he calls old-style politics.

"Only in Washington can you get away with calling someone out of touch when you're the one who thinks that 30 cents a day is enough to help people who are struggling in this economy," Obama said in a speech at a school in Indianapolis.

'Phony ideas'
He cited a published report in which an unidentified Clinton aide was quoted as saying the proposal wouldn't have much of an impact on gasoline prices, but was a good political position to take.

"This is what passes for leadership in Washington — phony ideas, calculated to win elections instead of actually solving problems," he said.

Mocking other Clinton campaign themes, he added, "I wish I could stand up here and tell you that we could fix our energy problems with a holiday. I wish I could tell you that we can take a time-out from trade and bring back the jobs that have gone overseas. I wish I could promise that on day one of my presidency, I could pass every plan and proposal I've outlined in this campaign.

'But my guess is that you've heard those promises before. You hear them every year, in every election."

Like Obama, Clinton seemed eager to extend the debate.

"There is no contradiction between trying to provide immediate relief and having a long term vision and a plan for what we must do to lessen our dependence on foreign oil and moving toward more homegrown fuels," she said.

The former first lady added that as president, she would release oil out of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to try and bring down the price of gasoline and would back an investigation by the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission into the run-up in prices.

In South Carolina, Democrats attending their state convention Saturday elected a supporter of Barack Obama to an open superdelegate slot.

The election before a crowd of about 2,000 came as some complained that Obama and Clinton were trying to win delegates pledged to native son John Edwards. The former North Carolina senator has not released his delegates nor given his support to one of the remaining candidates.