Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama battled over national security and trade in a frantic burst of last-minute campaigning on Monday as Clinton accused Obama of deception and new evidence of discord surfaced within her own camp.
With less than 24 hours to go before voting in Ohio, Texas, Vermont and Rhode Island, Clinton’s campaign released a television advertisement accusing Obama of being AWOL from his chairmanship of a Senate oversight committee on the forces fighting in Afghanistan. “He was too busy running for president to hold even one hearing,” the ad said.
Obama’s campaign, counterpunching, said Clinton had herself missed important hearings on Afghanistan before the Senate Armed Services Committee last month.
The day was the latest installment in the riveting drama between two formidable, historic candidates: the first woman to be a serious contender for president and the charismatic young black man who has packed arenas across the country and overtaken Clinton in many polls and the delegate count.
Officials predicted a record turnout among voters in Texas.
Clinton, facing calls from some Democrats to quit the race should she perform poorly on Tuesday after 11 straight losses, appeared almost defiant at the start of her day in Ohio, declaring, “I’m just getting warmed up.”
Then she charged that one of Obama’s senior advisers had told Canadian officials that Obama’s opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, was largely a political tactic, not a serious policy position. Obama denied that he was sending back-channel messages to the Canadians and said the Clinton campaign was “throwing the kitchen sink” at him.
Clinton had her own internal problems as reports of dysfunction and finger-pointing rumbled through her operation.
In an e-mail message sent over the weekend to The Los Angeles Times, Mark Penn, Clinton’s chief strategist and pollster, appeared to be distancing himself from the campaign’s operations when he said he had “no direct authority in the campaign.” Penn described himself as merely “an outside message adviser with no campaign staff reporting to me.”
Penn is a long-time friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton and serves — as he invariably describes himself — as the campaign’s chief strategist. This means he is involved in directing the message presented by Clinton in her speeches and campaign advertisements, and the overall strategic thrusts of the campaign. He has also often served as the voice of the campaign — appearing on television and giving interviews pressing Clinton’s cause.
Obama faced continuing questions on Monday about his relationship with the developer Antoin Rezko, who is on trial in Chicago, accused of exploiting political relationships with the Illinois governor, Rod R. Blagojevich, to obtain millions of dollars in kickbacks on state contracts.
Obama is not implicated in any aspect of the case, but Rezko has contributed $150,000 over the years to Obama’s campaigns and helped him purchase a home at the same time Rezko bought an adjoining strip of land he later sold to Obama.