Politics & Government

Clinton, Obama trade charges over who can take the heat

RADNOR, Pa. — Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama sparred Friday over who's toughest with Clinton mocking Obama for complaining about the questioning he received in Wednesday's presidential debate.

The Obama camp shot back that it was Clinton's campaign that first complained about being subjected to hard questioning and unbalanced media treatment.

Speaking at a town hall meeting at a high school gym in this Main Line Philadelphia suburb, Clinton took a verbal swipe at Obama, her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, borrowing a line from former President Harry S Truman.

"I know that some of my opponent's supporters and my opponent are kind of complaining about the hard questions," Clinton told the standing-room crowd. "I'm with Harry Truman on this: If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. And just speaking for myself, I am very comfortable in the kitchen. So, as the heat goes up that's okay with me, because we've got a lot of tough problems."

Clinton began the morning attacking Obama on the debate issue. In an interview with a Philadelphia FOX television affiliate, she seemed to question Obama's toughness.

"The special interests are going to be a lot tougher than 90 minutes of questioning from two journalists, and we need a president who is going to be up there fighting for everyday American people and not complaining about how much pressure there is, and how hard the questions are," she said.

That drew a quick response from the Obama campaign.

"Considering the fact that Sen. Clinton sat on stage at the last debate and complained to all of America that she always gets the first question, her blatant hypocrisy here is stunning," said Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton in an email statement. "

ABC News has gotten some harsh reviews for its handling of the debate Wednesday in Philadelphia. Several critics and many voters have complained that moderators Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos tilted the tough questioning too heavily towards Obama. Defenders have said that he deserved the extra scrutiny as the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Obama complained while campaigning in North Carolina on Thursday.

"They like stirring up controversy, and they like playing gotcha games," he said. "Sen. Clinton looked in her element. She was taking every opportunity to get a dig in there ... to kind of twist the knife a little bit."

Hillary Clinton's comments Friday come weeks after her campaign complained that she was the victim of unbalanced media scrutiny, that the press has aggressively delved into her record, finances, and associations while barely scratching the surface on Obama's personal and political history.

To bolster the argument about unequal press treatment, Phil Singer, a Clinton campaign spokesman, recommended in February that reporters watch a comedy sketch in the season opener of NBC's "Saturday Night Live" in which cast members played reporters fawning over Obama — played by another cast member — and asked him softball questions during a debate skit.

Several potential voters — supporters of either Clinton or Obama — said they were disgusted at the charges and counter-charges that have dominated the campaign recently.

"I'm so disgusted with all of it," said Shelly Messimer, a caregiver in Richfield, Pa., who attended an Obama rally Friday at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pa. "I'd prefer that they focus on the issues."

Obama began his day launching a campaign train trip through Pennsylvania with an appearance in Erie, in the state's northeast corner. He concentrated on the economy, which has been rocky there and throughout central and western Pennsylvania for years.

Obama's targets were President Bush and presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain, not Clinton.

"Only somebody whose campaign is run by Washington lobbyists could think we're making great progress while so many Americans are struggling," Obama said of McCain. "And now John McCain's calling for basically four more years of the same policies that have gotten us to where we are."

But voters were still fuming over the debate and the tone of the Clinton-Obama rivalry.

Laura Kittle, a prison rehabilitation worker from Williamsport, said the continuous sniping between the Democratic presidential candidates is becoming like "The Jerry Springer Show," a raucous program where guests often argue and sometimes literally throw punches.

"Both candidates are getting more desperate and more ugly," she said.

At the town hall in Radnor, a woman expressed concern that the bickering between the two Democrats could hurt the eventual nominee. Clinton told her not to worry.

"I will do whatever I can to make sure that we have a Democratic president next January," Clinton said. "You have to separate personal feelings from getting the job done."

She added that the differences between her and Obama "pale in comparison to the differences between us and Sen. McCain and the Republicans."