Barack Obama pressed Hillary Clinton yesterday on the issue of foreign trade, accusing his Democratic rival of trying to walk away from a long record of support for NAFTA, the free trade agreement that he said has cost 50,000 jobs in Ohio, site of next week's primary.
At the same time, Obama said attempts to repeal the trade deal "would probably result in more job losses than job gains in the United States."
One day after Clinton angrily accused him of distorting her record on NAFTA in mass mailings, the Illinois senator was eager to rekindle the long-distance debate, citing passages from the former first lady's book as well as her own words.
"Ten years after NAFTA passed, Senator Clinton said it was good for America," Obama said. "Well, I don't think NAFTA has been good for America - and I never have.
"The fact is, she was saying great things about NAFTA until she started running for president," Obama told an audience at a wall-board factory in Lorain, Ohio, a working-class community west of Cleveland.
Later, at a rally in Toledo, he rebutted Clinton's statement that her husband had merely inherited the trade agreement when he won the White House from former president George H.W. Bush. President Clinton "championed NAFTA," passed it through Congress, and signed it into law, Obama said.
Phil Singer, a spokesman for Clinton, said the senator from New York was critical of the agreement long before she ran for president. He cited remarks from March 2000 in which she said, "What happened to NAFTA I think was we inherited an agreement that we didn't get everything we should have got out of it in my opinion. I think the NAFTA agreement was flawed."
The committee will file a complaint today with the Federal Election Commission against McCain's request to withdraw from public financing, Dean said. The FEC on Feb. 21 released a letter to McCain saying that he can't opt out until he has answered questions about a $4 million bank loan taken in December using possible matching federal funds as collateral.
McCain, the likely Republican nominee, last year applied to use the government financing system when he was struggling to raise money. Candidates who accept public money that matches private donations must accept limits on spending. "John McCain cannot unilaterally withdraw from his spending agreement," Dean said in a conference call with reporters. "The law is very, very clear. He cannot be let out of the matching funds program."
McCain sent a letter to the FEC on Feb. 6 saying he was withdrawing from the federal funding program, noting he had not received any public money. Commission Chairman David Mason, a Republican, replied that the commission lacks a quorum to vote on the request and asked for clarification of the loan agreement.
"Howard Dean's hypocrisy is breathtaking given that in 2003 he withdrew from the matching funds system in exactly the same way that John McCain is doing today," McCain campaign spokesman Brian Rogers said.
Obama, who has won 10 straight Democratic contests, hopes to best Clinton in either of those states, where she once held big leads.
A combined 334 delegates are at stake in Ohio and Texas, and former president Clinton has said publicly his wife probably needs to win both of them if she is to win the Democratic presidential nomination.
Vermont and Rhode Island also hold primaries on March 4, but have far fewer delegates and have not attracted as much attention.