Clinton Camp Piles on Obama's 'Presents'

Clinton campaign attacks Obama over his votes in the Illinois state senate.

ByABC News
December 20, 2007, 5:29 PM

Dec. 20, 2007 — -- Why did Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., as a young Illinois legislator, so often choose to vote "present" rather than "yes" or "no" on pieces of legislation in the Illinois Senate? That answer depends on whom you ask.

Thursday, The New York Times reported Obama voted "present" nearly 130 times as a state senator.

Anxious to spread the word, the Clinton campaign organized a conference call for reporters with members of Congress who support Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., for president.

On the call, three U.S. representatives went after Obama's frequent use of the "present" vote, suggesting he was trying to avoid accumulating any kind of legislative record that could later be open to scrutiny if he decided to run for president one day.

"He took what many of us in public life would say is the easy way out," said Rep. Anthony Weiner, a Democrat from Clinton's home state of New York.

"The president of the United States needs to take a tough stand on tough issues and not say, 'I'm here but I'm not going to take a stand,'" Weiner said.

Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N..Y., said that in 1999 then-state Sen. Obama voted "present" more often than he voted "no".

"We're focusing in on his record because he says that's what matters," said Rep. Stephanie Tubbs-Jones, D-Ohio, another Clinton supporter on the conference call with reporters.

The Obama campaign hit back at the charges Thursday.

"It's all politically motivated at a time when Clinton is sliding in the polls," said Obama spokesman Bill Burton.

The Obama campaign argued the practice of voting "present" is relatively common in the Illinois legislature.

Every senator from both parties that Obama served with in the Illinois Senate also voted "present" at some point in their terms, according to the Obama campaign.

And in more than 50 votes, Obama appeared to be voting "present" along with a group of other Democratic lawmakers, as part of a concerted strategy, reported The New York Times.