Barack Obama’s camp has accused Hillary Clinton of trying to divert attention from her exaggerated account of a 1996 trip to Bosnia after she revived a row over her rival’s fiery pastor.
With Obama set to return to the campaign trail on Wednesday after a short Easter holiday, the Democratic White House foes were braced for more bitterness in the drawn-out run-up to their next nominating clash, in Pennsylvania on April 22.
On Tuesday, Clinton flatly said that she would have left the church had her pastor come up with the kind of incendiary rhetoric used by Jeremiah Wright, a close friend of the Illinois senator.
But the Obama campaign accused her of trying to deflect from her own dicey political moment, after she admitted that her claims that she dodged sniper fire during the Bosnia trip as first lady were untrue.
”I made a mistake, that happens. It proves I’m human, which, for some people, is a revelation,” Clinton said, as the controversy raged, distracting from her claims of high-level foreign-policy experience.
She used that same news conference to discuss Wright, after a week of choosing not to comment on the issue.
”I think, given all we have heard and seen, he would not have been my pastor,” Clinton said.
”We don’t have a choice when it comes to our relatives. We have a choice when it comes to our pastors and the church we attend.”
Videos emerged this month of Wright assailing United States and Israeli ”terrorism”, calling on African-Americans to sing ”God damn America” over racial prejudice and alleging the US government spread Aids among the community.
The furore prompted Obama to give a landmark speech on racial reconciliation last week that appeared to quiet the storm.
But Republican commentators denounced him for refusing to disown Wright, and the drama, which some analysts say could hurt Obama with working-class white voters, looked set to be a general election issue if he wins the nomination.
Obama spokesperson Bill Burton hit back at Clinton.
”After originally refusing to play politics with this issue, it’s disappointing to see Hillary Clinton’s campaign sink to this low in a transparent effort to distract attention away from the story she made up about dodging sniper fire in Bosnia,” he said.
”The truth is, Barack Obama has already spoken out against his pastor’s offensive comments and addressed the issue of race in America with a deeply personal and uncommonly honest speech.”
Clinton’s attempts to chase down frontrunner Obama were complicated by the Bosnia snafu, which her rival’s aides have framed as an example of her dishonestly overstating her foreign-policy experience.
Obama aides quickly pointed to at least four other occasions stretching back to December when she had recalled coming under fire when she landed at Tuzla airbase on March 25 1996.
Television footage from the trip showed Clinton being greeted by smiling officials on the tarmac as she got off a US military plane.
Senator John McCain, who has already clinched the Republican presidential nomination, attempted to bolster his economic credentials and debunk Democratic claims he knows little about finance with a speech on the mortgage crisis.
”Any assistance must be temporary and must not reward people who were irresponsible at the expense of those who weren’t,” McCain said, signalling reticence over large-scale government assistance to alleviate the crisis.
”I will not play election-year politics with the housing crisis,” the Arizona senator told Hispanic business leaders in California.
But he also appeared to attempt to distance himself from President George Bush, who has been accused by Democrats of obstinately refusing to intervene to rescue the stuttering economy.
”In this crisis, as in all I may face in the future, I will not allow dogma to override common sense,” he said.
McCain late on Tuesday got another boost as he strives to solidify shaky links with the right wing of his party, by securing the endorsement of Nancy Reagan, wife of late conservative hero and former president Ronald Reagan.
”I believe John’s record and experience have prepared him well to be our next president,” said Reagan in a statement. — AFP