Obama’s Cup of Tea

By Ed O'Keefe

Dec 28, 2007 3:59pm

ABC News’ Sunlen Miller Reports: Six days from the Iowa caucuses and the battle over experience has not subsided.

Barack Obama insists his experiences traveling and having family living overseas brings more to the table than, let’s say, the job of a former first lady.

"It’s that experience, that understanding, not just of what world leaders I went and talked to in the ambassadors house I had tea with, but understanding the lives of the people like my grandmother who lives in a tiny hut in Africa," Obama, D-Ill., told a crowd of would-be voters in Coralville, Iowa, on Friday.

The veiled shot at Senator Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., couldn’t be more succinct as he argued that her experience level as a first lady doesn’t outshine his as a world traveler.

Obama went on to argue that this difference led him to make judgment about the Iraq war.

"That’s the experience that helped inform my opposition to the war in Iraq, that’s the kind of experience that’s rooted in the real lives of the American people," he said.

Obama’s tea comment sparked a response from Clinton’s campaign Friday. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, a supporter of Clinton’s, issued a statement.

"Senator Clinton has been in refugee camps, clinics, orphanages, and villages all around the world, including places where tea is not the usual drink," Albright said. "In addition to these experiences she has met with world leaders and has known many of them for years.  I have been with her on many of these occasions, and it is this combination of experience and understanding that sets her apart from the field, and why I am supporting her for President."

Clinton refused to respond Friday when reporters asked her about Obama’s "tea" comments.

At a campaign stop Friday in Clinton, Iowa reporters asked Obama to clarify his remarks.

Obama said, "Why do you guys like to gin up these kind of stories like this? I was making the same comment I’ve made many times which is that knowing a country is more to do than visiting an ambassador’s office, those folks must really be on edge if they think we spend all our time thinking about them," he said. "They need to think about the American people a little more instead of us." 

But it has all been rough and tumble on the campaign trail.

At an earlier town hall event in Williamsburg, Iowa, Obama recalled a recent conversation with his wife, Michelle Obama.

The candidate recounted told the crowd how his aspiring first lady told him, " ‘You know, in eight years, I’m not sure we’d be the same people as we are now,’ " and joked that they are "not doing this again."

Just five years ago, Obama told the crowd, the couple had just paid off their student loads after ten years of law school and hadn’t yet set up a college fund for their daughters.

"My wife was still shopping at Target. She still does," Obama said. "And she said, ‘You know, eight years from now, we will have lost a little bit of touch with what ordinary families are going through. We’ll still be good people, hopefully, but we’ll be in a different orbit, in a different circle. Our worries will be different and our concerns will be different. And we’re already there, but at least we’ll still remember what that was like.’ And I thought that that was a wonderful insight."

The candidate, who regularly refers to Senator Clinton and her husband former President Bill Clinton as part of the "Washington establishment", continued, "One of the things that I think I offer in this race is. . . the way (Michelle) put it is, ‘We still remember what it’s like to be normal.’ But I think that’s part of what happens when you’re in Washington for a very long time — you lose touch with that."

ABC News’ Eloise Harper contributed to this report.

You can read more of Sunlen Miller’s dispatches from the campaign trail by clicking here. And for the latest on the 2008 race for the White House, read The Note every morning.

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