Senator Barack Obama yesterday directly challenged former President Bill Clinton's assertions that Mr. Obama and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton hold the same essential positions on the Iraq war.
Throughout the spring, Mr. Clinton has privately told his wife's donors and supporters that it was unfair for Mr. Obama, a rival of Mrs. Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, to be regarded as more antiwar than Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Clinton has focused on the similarities in the two senators' voting records on Iraq since 2005, when Mr. Obama entered the Senate, and not on their positions before the war, when Mr. Obama opposed it while Mrs. Clinton voted, in 2002, to authorize military action in Iraq.
"This dichotomy that's been set up to allow him to become the raging hero of the antiwar crowd on the Internet is just factually inaccurate," Mr. Clinton told a conference call of supporters in March, according to The Hill newspaper.
Mr. Obama, of Illinois, was asked in an interview on MSNBC yesterday about Mr. Clinton's point that the two senators have voted mostly the same way on Iraq.
"Well, I suppose that's true if you leave out the fact that she authorized it and supported it, and I said it was a bad idea," Mr. Obama said. "You know, that's a fairly major difference."
Mr. Obama then suggested that a fundamental question of judgment was at issue.
"I think very highly of Senator Clinton," he said. "I think she is a wonderful senator from New York, but - and I think very highly of Bill Clinton. But I think that it is fair to say that we had a fundamentally different opinion on the wisdom of this war. And I don't think we can revise history when it comes to that."
Mr. Obama has repeatedly noted on the campaign trail that he opposed the Iraq war as far back as the fall of 2002, when Mrs. Clinton was voting to allow military action. But until yesterday, Mr. Obama had not been so direct in contesting Mr. Clinton's claims that there was little difference between the two hopefuls.
Mr. Obama and the Clintons have traded relatively little direct fire in the last few months, and Mrs. Clinton's spokesman responded to Mr. Obama yesterday by emphasizing her desire to look ahead on Iraq and not return to the 2002 authorization vote.
"Senator Clinton is focused on uniting Democrats and ending the war," said the spokesman, Howard Wolfson.
Mr. Obama took the shot at the Clintons a day after Mrs. Clinton was pressed by reporters about whether she supported the idea of cutting off financing for major combat operations next spring. She voted on Wednesday for such a proposal (as did Mr. Obama), then said she would not speculate on how she would vote in the future. Later Wednesday, however, she told reporters that she unequivocally supported the plan to end war financing next spring.
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