WASHINGTON - Prominent supporters of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama yesterday both faulted Obama's campaign for allowing a retired general and backer of the Illinois senator to equate comments by Clinton's husband - which appeared to question Obama's patriotism - to McCarthyism.
"I don't believe President Clinton was implying that," said Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, a former presidential candidate who endorsed Obama last week. "But the point here . . . is that the campaign has gotten too negative - too many personal attacks, too much negativity that is not resounding with the public."
When asked whether Obama's campaign was being too negative in accusing Bill Clinton of McCarthyism, Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, a Clinton supporter, said, "Of course. . . . The Obama campaign tries to have it both ways."
Rendell said Bill Clinton was saying what many people think, that the campaign should focus on the economy, healthcare, and the candidates' experience, for example, and not on race and other distractions.
"And instead they launch this all-out attack trying to take an inference out of President Clinton's words that no fair person could take," Rendell said. "It's an example of the negativity that Governor Richardson is talking about.
"If they want to tone it down, don't accuse someone of McCarthyism," Rendell said. Both governors commented on "Fox News Sunday."
In Charlotte, N.C., last Friday, Bill Clinton spoke to a group of veterans and speculated about a general election matchup pitting his wife against Republican John McCain.
"I think it would be a great thing if we had an election year where you had two people who loved this country and were devoted to the interest of this country," the former president said. "And people could actually ask themselves who is right on these issues, instead of all this other stuff that always seems to intrude itself on our politics."
Retired general Merrill "Tony" McPeak, a cochairman of Obama's campaign, took offense and accused Clinton of being divisive and trying to question Obama's patriotism.
Standing with Obama at a campaign stop in southern Oregon, McPeak repeated Bill Clinton's comments for the audience, then said: "As one who for 37 years proudly wore the uniform of our country, I'm saddened to see a president employ these tactics. He of all people should know better because he was the target of exactly the same kind of tactics."
That was an apparent reference to Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign, when he was accused of dodging the Vietnam War draft.
McPeak also made off-the-cuff remarks to reporters Friday in comparing the former president's comments to the actions of Joseph McCarthy, the 1950s communist-hunting senator.
"I grew up, I was going to college when Joe McCarthy was accusing good Americans of being traitors, so I've had enough of it," McPeak said.
Clinton and Obama took a rest from their campaigns yesterday, with the close race for the nomination expected to drag on for months.
The Democratic rivals will focus this week on Pennsylvania, the next prize in the primary race. The April 22 contest in Pennsylvania is crucial for Clinton, who trails Obama in pledged delegates.
Clinton's campaign said over the weekend that her recent strong fund-raising showed that voters are not ready for the Democratic race to end, and it continued to rebuff calls that she drop out.