LAS VEGAS, Jan. 18, 2008 -- With only hours to go before Nevada Democrats begin caucusing, Barack Obama took a new tact in his battle with Hillary Clinton — laughing at her criticism of him.
The Nevada caucus — the first time the Silver State has played a crucial early role in the presidential sweepstakes — will be held Saturday and both senators are hoping to pull off a victory.
Obama won the Iowa caucuses and Clinton pulled off an upset win in New Hampshire. Whoever claims victory in Nevada will also be able to lay claim to the momentum as the Democratic campaign would then head to South Carolina.
As the countdown to the caucus nears, the candidates tweaked their tone in their final pitches.
Clinton launched an air assault with a radio ad that accused him of having financial ties to supporters of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site, a sensitive issue in Nevada.
Obama opened a town hall meeting by drawing laughs as he went point by point through Clinton's attempts to discredit or criticize his record.
Obama brought up, in almost comic perplexity, Clinton's criticisms over his recent debate answers, the bankruptcy bill, Yucca Mountain, Social Security and lobbyists. He presented himself, by contrast, as the one who is the straight shooter, and Clinton as a candidate who will say anything to get elected.
Responding to the fallout from Tuesday's debate question over each candidate's weakness, Obama mentioned his messy desk and said that he loses paper easily.
"So I thought, ya know, 'cause I'm like an ordinary person, I thought that they meant 'what's your biggest weakness?' … So the other two [Clinton and John Edwards] they say, they say well my biggest weakness is 'I'm just too passionate about helping poor people.' 'I am just too impatient to bring about change in America,'" Obama said.
"If I had gone last, I would have known what the game was. I could have said, 'Well ya know, I like to help old ladies across the street. Sometimes they don't want to be helped. It's terrible.'"
Obama then took on the bankruptcy bill and criticized Clinton for her reasoning for voting for the bill.
"So Sen. Clinton votes for this and then she says, 'I voted for it, but I was glad to see that it didn't pass.' What does that mean?" Obama exclaimed to the crowd. "If you didn't want to see it passed, then you can vote against it. People don't say what they mean."
Obama moved on to the proposed nuclear waste site at Yucca Mountain and Clinton's recent questioning of Obama's position.
"I have said over and over again I'm against Yucca. … I think the science is not there. I've never been for Yucca. Never been for it. Never said I was for it. Suddenly you've got the Clinton camp out there saying 'He's for Yucca.' What part of 'I'm not for Yucca' do you not understand?"
Obama moved to Social Security, responding to a mailer in Nevada the Clinton campaign has sent out criticizing Obama's plan.
"Suddenly you have a flier out by the Clinton campaign saying 'Obama is proposing a trillion-dollar tax increase on hardworking Americans.' Now understand that here in Nevada only 3 percent of the people make more than $97,000 so maybe she thinks that middle-class folks [are] making a million dollars. I don't."
Lastly, Obama hit hard on Clinton's criticism of the ethics reform bill he passed in the Senate with Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis.
"She mocked our bill. This is an example of saying what you mean. She said, she's been saying over the past couple of weeks, 'You know, this bill doesn't do anything. You know, it was just a little, symbolic bill. If Sen. Obama thinks that's a big accomplishment, that's his right.' Keep in mind she had voted against some of the provisions that would have made it even stronger. So only in Washington can you vote to weaken a bill and then complain later it wasn't stronger."
Obama then said he looked at what she said about the bill on the floor of the Senate and reports back that what she said was 'this is excellent legislation and I'm proud to be voting for it cause this is really making progress.'"
"Wait a minute, you can't say one thing back then and now say something complete opposite now," Obama exclaimed as the crowd roared in laughter.
After getting through the list, Obama wrapped up by concluding, "Those kinds of tricks, that kind of approach to politics is what has to stop. Nobody believes anything. Voters don't believe what politicians are saying."
He then promised the audience, "You won't hear me saying one thing one day to one audience and then saying something else another day to a different audience because I think it's politically convenient."