Senator Barack Obama won the support yesterday of the 1.9 million member Service Employees International Union, providing an army of volunteers for key upcoming primaries against Senator Hillary Clinton.
Obama also responded yesterday to Clinton's new line of attack that she offers solutions, not just promises and speeches like Obama, by saying he has proved during his career that he can bring substantive change. He also hit back by turning around her argument that "speeches don't put food on the table."
"She's right," he said in Milwaukee. "Speeches alone don't do anything. But you know what, neither do negative attacks."
"Her supporting NAFTA didn't give jobs to the American people," Obama said of the North American Free Trade Agreement implemented while Bill Clinton was in the White House. "Hollering at Republicans and engaging in petty, partisan politics didn't help healthcare get done."
He also suggested Clinton's attacks were made out of desperation because his campaign is ahead. "I understand that Senator Clinton, periodically when she's feeling down, launches attacks as a way of trying to boost her appeal," he said. "But I think this kind of gamesmanship is not what the American people are looking for."
But Clinton isn't letting up in her assault; yesterday her campaign launched its second TV ad this week, blasting Obama for not agreeing to debate in Wisconsin before its Tuesday primary. She plans to campaign today in the state, which has 74 delegates at stake. Polls indicated that Obama is ahead in Wisconsin. He also leads in overall delegates, 1,280 to 1,218, according to an Associated Press count that includes "superdelegates."
"Barack Obama still won't agree to debate in Wisconsin," the narrator says in the ad. "And now he's hiding behind false attack ads. Maybe he doesn't want to explain why his healthcare plan leaves out 15 million people and Hillary's covers everyone. Or why he voted to pass billions in Bush giveaways to the oil companies, but Hillary didn't. Or why he said he might raise the retirement age and cut benefits for Social Security, but Hillary won't."
The Obama campaign points out that the two Democratic contenders have already debated 18 times and have two more scheduled in Ohio and Texas before those huge March 4 primaries.
While campaigning in Texas yesterday, Bill Clinton made the same remarks about the candidates' healthcare plans, saying it would be "truly tragic" if Democrats "walked away" from universal coverage.
That provoked Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, into reminding voters about some attacks that the former president made before the South Carolina primary that were criticized by Democrats.
"Now that Senator Clinton's campaign is floundering, the old Bill Clinton has returned with yet another false accusation about Barack Obama of the kind that failed his wife's campaign in South Carolina," Plouffe said in a statement. "Senator Ted Kennedy, who has made healthcare a cause of his career, said that he wouldn't have endorsed Barack Obama unless he was 'absolutely convinced' he would deliver universal healthcare as president, which is also a reason why millions of SEIU workers dedicated to the cause of universal healthcare endorsed Barack Obama's candidacy today."
Andy Stern, SEIU president, told reporters that in the months since union leaders met with several Democratic candidates last fall, "the excitement has been building and building for Obama."
The SEIU delayed a national endorsement for months, but in the interim, several state affiliates swung behind candidates, many of them choosing John Edwards, a former North Carolina senator who dropped out of the race late last month. Stern said in a phone interview that siding against Clinton was not easy "because Senator Clinton is both a great senator and a good friend to the SEIU."
On Thursday, Obama also collected the support of the 1.3 million-member United Food and Commercial Workers, which has 19,000 members in Wisconsin, 69,000 members in Ohio, and 26,000 in Texas.
© 2008 The Boston Globe