5/6/08

'Lying to our union brothers and sisters'

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) campaign worked to portray Democratic rival Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) as elitist and out of touch as Indiana and North Carolina voters heard the campaigns’ closing arguments in the final hours before Tuesday’s vote. The Clinton campaign also pushed a new Obama controversy on Monday, suggesting he had been both secretive and a flip-flopper in his dealings with a union that backed his bid.

A Wall Street Journal story, seized on by both the Clinton camp and the Republican National Committee (RNC), said Obama won the Teamsters Union’s endorsement after he privately assured them he was in favor of curtailing an independent review board set up in 1992 “to eliminate Mob influence in the union.”

According to the Journal, Tommy Vietor, an Obama spokesman, confirmed that Obama did make that commitment.

Clinton advisers said on a Monday conference call that the issue was not about Obama’s pledge to the union but about the confusion on what Obama does support after the Illinois senator said on “Good Morning America” that he “wouldn’t make any blanket commitments” to the union.

“I am confused about what Sen. Obama’s position is,” Phil Singer, a Clinton spokesman, said. “He told the Teamsters in private that he is for lifting the decree and his campaign confirmed that position in today’s [Wall Street Journal]. But then he went on ‘GMA’ and said he made no blanket commitments. What is his position?”

Vietor told The Hill there is no controversy, and that Clinton also left the union with the impression that she was in favor of lifting the consent decree that gave the board its authority.

“Sen. Obama’s position is clear on the issue,” Vietor said. “Sen. Clinton led the Teamsters to believe she supported their position, and now she claims she doesn’t.”

Vietor pointed to audio from the meeting that surfaced Monday where Clinton does seem to be making that endorsement.

On the Monday call, Clinton advisers said she was open to reviewing the board. But Singer said Clinton “has made no promises about lifting the consent decree.”

“This is an attempt to get to the bottom of what Sen. Obama’s position is on the consent decree,” Singer said in an e-mail.

The dust-up over the Teamsters meeting came as the two campaigns continued to battle over the gas tax moratorium that Clinton supports and Obama does not.

The issue has become a flashpoint in the run-up to Tuesday’s contests as Clinton pushed to make her case that Obama is out of touch with Americans who are struggling in the face of record-shattering gas prices.

Vietor said the Clinton campaign’s efforts to blow out the Teamsters issue was “just another attempt to distract voters from her pandering on the gas tax.”

A number of high-profile Clinton supporters and most economists have said publicly that Clinton’s plan, which is similar but not identical to a proposal put forward by presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), is flawed on several levels.

Obama has repeatedly called Clinton’s plan a “Washington gimmick,” even as Clinton has said she does not share the “elite” opinions of the economists.

The labor fight also spilled into two other union camps in Indiana as Change to Win, which is supporting Obama, accused the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which supports Clinton, of failing to identify itself as the producer of fliers being circulated in the Hoosier State.

The fliers say only that they are from “your union,” according to Change to Win.

“It’s a shame that the discourse of the Democratic presidential primary campaign has sunk to the point of lying to our union brothers and sisters on the eve of the Indiana primary election,” Greg Tarpinian, Change to Win’s executive director, said in a statement. “We expect these types of deplorable tactics from the McCain campaign, not AFSCME.”

The Clinton campaign continued to try to manage expectations heading into Tuesday’s contests as most polls showed the New York senator with a narrow lead in Indiana and having somewhat closed the gap in North Carolina.

Howard Wolfson and Geoff Garin, Clinton’s two senior advisers, said Monday that Clinton enjoyed momentum in both states despite being outspent by Obama.

“What we expect is a result that looks a heck of a lot better than things looked for us a month ago in each of these states,” Garin said. “We believe that we’ve got things moving in the right direction in both states.”

The Clinton campaign said that Obama outspent the New York senator by about $2.4 million in Indiana and about $1.3 million in North Carolina.

The Obama campaign said that Clinton needs to win Tuesday to make any effort to cut into his lead in delegates, adding that by their count Obama needs only 276 more delegates to win the nomination.

“The question for Sen. Clinton is can she make serious inroads in the delegate race tomorrow,” Vietor said in an e-mail. “To do that, she needs to win big in both states.”

(thehill.com)

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