Obama Campaign Claims Clinton Has 'Character Gap'

In sharpest attack to date, Obama camp assails rival as untrustworthy.


March 21, 2008 — -- The campaign of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., delivered one of its harshest, most negative attacks yet today, asserting that Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., is lacking in character and regularly misleads voters.

"She is not seen as trustworthy by the American people," said Obama campaign manager David Plouffe in a conference call with reporters this morning, citing a Gallup poll released this week indicating that only 44 percent of the American people consider Clinton "honest and trustworthy," as opposed to 67 percent for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and 63 percent for Obama.

Plouffe said this perception would make it "next to impossible" for Clinton to win the general election.

"To head into a general election with over half the electorate not believing you are trustworthy is a serious problem," Plouffe said. "The American people will not elect a candidate that they do not see as trustworthy."

In the past the Obama campaign has raised these numbers to merely argue this would be a difficult hurdle for Clinton to clear, though it stopped short of blaming her for the perception she's not trustworthy.

Not today.

Today, the Obama campaign blamed Clinton for what Gallup called a "perceived honesty gap" and Plouffe called a "character gap."

Greg Craig, a former White House attorney under President Clinton who serves as a senior adviser to the Obama campaign, added that Clinton's newly released schedules from her days as first lady did not support her claims of foreign policy experience.

"Her access was very limited and her trips abroad were largely ceremonial," Craig said. "She says she is ready to be commander in chief based on claims that are not supported by reality."

Plouffe said Clinton is "consistently engaged in political calculation to mislead voters" and laid out a case that Clinton is a liar (though he never used the L word so forbidden in politics.)

He cited Clinton's claim that she was always opposed to North American Free Trade Agreement while those recently released White House schedules indicate she had repeated meetings to push the treaty toward final congressional passage.

"Sen. Clinton misled the voters of Ohio," he said, arguing that Clinton had been duplicitous and double-dealing when it came to claims that she had helped pass the Family and Medical Leave Act, in her push for revotes in Michigan and Florida, and in her claims that her campaign is not promoting the story about Obama's relationship with the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

The campaign manager also mentioned a recent "60 Minutes" interview in which Clinton said Obama wasn't a Muslim "as far as I know."

"She has shared prayer breakfasts with Sen. Obama and knows without a shadow of a doubt that he is a Christian," Plouffe said. "These kinds of evasions and misleading of voters causes a real 'character gap.'"

For its part, the Clinton campaign released a campaign memo calling Obama "desperate to change the subject," and accusing his campaign of reckless tactics.

"It's not a pretty sight -- it's all part of a pattern of just words," said the Clinton memo, saying Obama "calls for high-minded debates while practicing lowdown politics."

"It's no surprise that Americans are expressing serious doubts about his ability to answer the 3 a.m. call," concluded the Clinton campaign memo.

In light of accusations from the Clinton campaign that there is still much unknown about Obama, Plouffe said, "If Sen. Clinton wants to have a conversation about electability and vetting, we're happy to have it. … The central assertions in her candidacy have proven to be false."

Assailing the Clintons' refusal so far to release any recent tax returns or the names of donors to the William J. Clinton Presidential Library, Plouffe asked, "What are the Clintons scared of? Why won't they release this information? … What's lurking there?"

Michael Elmore contributed to this report.

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