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Clinton on the attack

From NBC/NJ's Mike Memoli, NBC's Ron Allen and Christina Jamison
CINCINNATI -- Making an implicit comparison between President Bush and Obama, Hillary Clinton warned an audience this morning that change for change's sake is not necessarily a good thing.
"He promised change as a compassionate conservative," she said referring to Bush, "and the American people got shafted."
The line, delivered with a passion not always seen from the New York senator, brought the hundreds at Cincinnati State College to their feet.
"Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me," she continued.

The Obama campaign responded by sending along a quote from Clinton Communications Director Howard Wolfson: "If you want to talk about tactical political maneuvering, it's about one Democrat comparing another Democrat to George Bush. That's the worst kind of tactical political maneuvering."

After the talk, she continued to take the fight to Obama while talking to reporters, displaying two of Obama's direct mail attack pieces, which she called "blatantly false" and claimed that his rhetoric doesn't match reality.

"Let's have a real campaign," she said, her anger palpable. "Enough with the speeches and the big rallies... Shame on you Barack Obama... Meet me in Ohio. Let's have a debate about your tactics and your behavior in this campaign."

At a press conference later in the day, Obama said the mailers are accurate and that he's puzzled why Clinton is raising them now, since they have been around for at least several days.

"It makes me think there is something tactical about her getting so exercised this morning," Obama said in Columbus, Ohio. "Sen Clinton as part of the Clinton administration supported NAFTA. In her book, she called it one of the administration's successes."

A supporter had showed Clinton the mailers in the rope line earlier at the event. One mailer is about NAFTA, and uses a Newsday quote saying Clinton says it was a "boon" to our economy. She claims never to have said that and that Newsday printed a correction. The second mailer is about health care and says her plan would force people to buy policies they cannot afford. It is the one that resembles the Republican Harry and Louise ad.

Clinton also fielded questions about her campaign's spending habits, saying that the money goes directly to communicating with voters, and defended her position on NAFTA, saying she was not in the Senate to vote for it and has criticized it since she entered the Senate.  When asked about the fact that NAFTA was enacted when her husband was in office, she said it was negotiated by the first President Bush.

The Clinton campaign also held a conference call to criticize the Obama mailers with Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a Clinton supporter, and Wolfson.

"Quite frankly Sen. Obama is sending out information in the mail in Ohio that is apparently quite false in some of its claims regarding Sen. Clinton and NAFTA," Strickland said.

Wolfson followed up with some past pro-NAFTA statements made by Obama, one apparently in Illinois to a group of farmers. Wolfson said there is a "pattern" of Obama saying different things to different groups.

Clinton also began a town hall meeting here last night by acknowledging the Dallas police officer who died after an accident while driving in her motorcade this morning. She then tied the plight of the officer's family to that of other families struggling in America today.

Clinton told the audience at Columbus State College that the late Victor Lozada left behind four children, two of whom were in college. "I thought of the help that that family will need, and the hope that they will have the educational and other opportunities that we want for all of our young people," she said. "Certainly we hope for every young person in America today the opportunity to live up to his or her God-given potential and to have all of the support that is needed from great institutions like Columbia [sic] State and others."

On stage with Clinton for the invitation-only event were four individuals who talked about their experiences during challenging economic times. Jason White, a CSU grad who now helps construct new school buildings in the state, talked about how building green created jobs beyond just those directly related to building. "You are singing my song," Clinton said.

Another panelist was Wally Ohert, an electrician from Columbus and father of 12 children. Ohert became emotional as he told his story, of suffering a massive heart attack and the challenges he faced after.

"We need to be able to look and feel good about our grandchildren," said Ohert, who has 17. "Somebody asked me, you know, well why are you supporting Hillary. Well, there are 17 of them." Ohert also thanked Clinton for saying she would reevaluate trade agreements, including NAFTA, which has become a major focus of the Ohio race.

"I will revise NAFTA to have very strong labor and environmental standards, to remove the provisions that give foreign companies the right to challenge laws that protect our workers, which I don't think is something in America's interests," Clinton said later. "We will have stronger enforcement mechanisms and we will review these trade agreements every five years. We're not gonna let them go without evaluating and find out whether they're helping or hurting the American economy."

Clinton also took a few questions during the subdued event, including one that addressed education. She launched into the flaws of No Child Left Behind, noting that states like "President Bush's state, Texas" were "embarrassed by the scores, so they just made the tests easier." Someone in the audience shouted out, asking whether Bush would even pass the test. Clinton laughed, and said, "There are so many things I could say to that, but I'll just get in trouble for nearly anything I'm thinking."

NBC/NJ's Aswini Anburajan also contributed to this report.

*** UPDATE *** The Obama campaign sends along this response: "Everything in those mailers is completely accurate, unlike the discredited attacks from Hillary Clinton's negative campaign that have been rejected in South Carolina, Wisconsin, and across America. We look forward to having a debate this Tuesday on the facts, and the facts are that Senator Clinton was a supporter of NAFTA and the China permanent trade treaties until this campaign began.  And she herself has said that under the Clinton health care plan, she would consider 'going after the wages' of Americans who don't purchase health insurance, whether they can afford it or not."

Also, Newsday did not issue an explicit correction. It did call Obama's NAFTA mailer "misleading," but here's the full context of what it wrote:

Because it's raised questions -- with Clinton criticizing Obama for making 'false claims' in the mail piece -- we've looked into the chart. In it, we did not have the Clinton campaign using the word "boon" in describing NAFTA. The word was our characterization of how we best understood her position on NAFTA, based on a review of past stories and her public statements. Tasini called for scrapping NAFTA in 2006. She did not.

We do not have a direct quote indicating her campaign told us she thought it was good for the economy at that time. Also, for that matter, Clinton's campaign did not contact us to question the item after it appeared in print.

Obama's use of the citation in this way does strike us as misleading. The quote marks make it look as if Hillary said 'boon,' not us. It's an example of the kind of slim reeds campaigns use to try to win an office. That said, we should have been clearer.