1/8/08

Negative AFSCME gives itself 'black eye' in N.H.

Sen. Barack Obama faced a barrage of criticism on the campaign trail and in mailboxes yesterday, with his rivals criticizing his support of nuclear power and accusing him of taking an ambiguous position on abortion rights. Members of one advocacy group supporting Sen. Hillary Clinton called on its leader to stop a negative ad campaign against Obama.

Meanwhile, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney continued his sharp attacks on Sen. John McCain, accusing the Arizona senator of attacking fellow Republicans, voting against tax cuts and supporting amnesty for illegal aliens.

Here is a rundown of the day's negative campaigning:

• A Clinton campaign flyer criticizing Obama's stance on abortion rights landed in New Hampshire mailboxes yesterday, accusing the Illinois senator of being "unwilling to take a stand on choice." On one side the flyer says, "a woman's right to choose . . .," with the backside displaying side-by-side comparisons of Clinton's and Obama's efforts to support abortion rights.

The mailer says Obama had seven opportunities in the Illinois state Senate to "stand up against Republican anti-choice legislation," but seven times he voted "present," instead of "yes" or "no."

"Being there is not enough to protect choice," the flyer says. In bold letters at the bottom it reads, "On January 8 you have a choice."

Obama campaign spokesman Reid Cherlin said the claim was false and already backfired once when Clinton tried to make it in Iowa. The campaign also provided a prepared statement from Lorna Barrett, the president of the Chicago chapter of the National Organization for Women. Brett called the mailer a "red herring."

"Barack Obama is and always has been there for the choice community. I know - I was there with him in the trenches," she said.

"This is offensive. I am pro-choice, pro-truth, pro-Hillary - in that order. And questioning the latter. I am very disgusted by this tactic being used by the Clinton campaign."

A story in the New York Times last month described Obama's "present" votes and quoted a spokeswoman for Illinois Planned Parenthood saying that the votes were actually part of a strategy to stymie anti-abortion legislation.

• Clinton also leveled some of her most pointed criticism of Obama on the campaign trail yesterday. At a stop yesterday morning at Merrimack Valley High School in Penacook, she told voters it was a mistake to support a health care plan that would not mandate health insurance for everybody.

"It's a mistake politically because it cedes to the Republicans the argument that we can't do this," she said. "I just totally reject that. Not only can we do it, we must do it. And it's wrong of us not to start out by trying to insure every single American. Because otherwise, we're going to start by leaving millions of people out."

• The American Federation of State, Municipal and County Employees, which has endorsed Clinton, has also blasted Obama's health care plan with several campaign mailers and radio ads in New Hampshire. Yesterday, Time's Mark Halperin posted on his blog a scathing letter written by AFSCME's executive board asking the union's president to stop the negative attacks against Obama.

Calling Obama "one of the great friends of our union," seven members of the group's International Executive Board said there was widespread agreement among board members to refrain from negative assaults against Clinton's rivals when the board voted to endorse her. The board members said they were "shocked and appalled" by the AFSCME campaign against Obama, which they said has been orchestrated by only two of the group's staffers with no input from its president, Gerald McEntee.

"It is also worth noting that the campaign that AFSCME is waging against Sen. Obama is fundamentally dishonest and inconsistent with past positions of our union, i.e. attacking him for not forcing individuals to purchase health care even if they can't afford it," the letter said. "The ads are a misleading in attempting to give the impression that they are associated with John Edwards rather than Hillary Clinton and in their claims that Sen. Obama's health care plan will exclude 15 million people when in fact every person will have the opportunity to participate."

The negative attacks give the union a "black eye" and hurt its chances of working with Obama if he becomes president, the letter says.

• The Romney campaign sent out a press release yesterday morning called, "The McCain Way: Attack Republicans," listing McCain's "top 10" confrontations with fellow Republican legislators. In six of the incidents listed, the Romney campaign claims McCain screamed at and berated Republicans, four times using obscenities.

The press release quotes McCain as well as reports from the New York Post, Newsweek, Roll Call, Politico and The Arizona Republic. It is posted on Romney's website.

Romney on Friday accused McCain of airing "the most personal, attack-oriented ads I've ever seen." Asked to respond to the comment yesterday afternoon, McCain laughed and took a long pause before answering.

"That's a very unique comment," he said. "If he didn't like the response we made, his problem is with the editorial boards of the Concord Monitor and the Manchester Union Leader and the 25 other newspapers that endorsed me."

• Romney also issued a new campaign mailer attacking McCain's record on tax cuts. It says McCain opposed the Bush tax cuts and opposed repealing the death tax. Above a black-and-white photo of a squinting McCain is a quote from the senator: "I don't think we should continue to cut taxes."

Inside, the mailer has a picture of Romney in front of an America flag and blue sky. It touts Romney's "record of fiscal discipline" and plan to bring that discipline to Washington.

"This is another example of Mitt Romney's failing, desperate campaign," McCain spokeswoman Crystal Benton said. "John McCain will continue to run on his record of cutting taxes and spending, and Gov. Romney can run on his - over $700 million in tax and fee increases for Massachusetts."

Romney spokesman Craig Stevens said the mailer is not negative but simply contrasts McCain's positions with Romney's.

"Twice as much time was spent talking about Gov. Romney's positions," Stevens said.

• While her husband encouraged New Hampshire voters to raise the same outcry against the status quo, Elizabeth Edwards made the case against Obama and Clinton - without naming them - at the Bektash Temple in Concord yesterday morning.

Former North Carolina senator John Edwards is against using nuclear power, but Elizabeth Edwards pointed out that one candidate - Obama - has said nuclear power should remain part of the energy mix. His other rival - Clinton - has said she is "agnostic" on the issue, Elizabeth Edwards said.

Touting her husband's plan to reform health care, Elizabeth Edwards said one candidate (Obama) wouldn't bring universal health care because his plan would leave out 15 million people. And she accused the other (Clinton) of trading her political leverage to push for health care in order to pass the North American Free Trade Agreement. John Edwards is against NAFTA-style trade policies.

• Bill Richardson squeaked out of Iowa with a distant fourth-place finish and has promised to run a positive, but aggressive campaign. Richardson also has propensity for flip comments like this one in response to John Edwards's self-characterization as Democratic underdog.

"I'm the underdog, but I've noticed that Sen. Edwards takes everything from me," Richardson said yesterday morning at the New Hampshire Technical Institute in Concord. "He's taken my Iraq position, he's taken my position on education, on health care. Now he's calling himself what I call myself, the underdog. I don't know what's next. Pretty soon he'll be saying he's governor of New Mexico."

• Friends of the Earth Action, an environmental group that has endorsed Edwards, sent out a press release yesterday questioning whether Obama is "too close to big coal" and criticizing his pro-nuclear energy stance.

Obama has said nuclear power could be part of the solution to energy independence and to fighting global warming. Edwards does not support nuclear power. The group's press release called Obama "flat wrong," saying it's too expensive and too risky.

• Ground zero rescue and recovery workers were at the Republican debate last night protesting Rudy Giuliani, who they said has failed to support the health problems of the workers but has still used the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 to advance his campaign.

Alex Sanchez, a janitor who worked for months on clean-up efforts at Ground Zero, said last night he has become sick from harmful pollutants and contaminants in the rubble. But he has limited access to health care.

"He's never been there for people who rushed down to Ground Zero to save people," Sanchez said.

The group says it wants a sit-down with Giuliani. Their protest coincides with the release of an investigative film, The Real Rudy: Abandoned Heroes, by Brave New Films.

(concordmonitor.com)

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