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Published: Thursday, 2/28/2008

Obama, McCain exchange jabs

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS Barack Obama came out swinging yesterday against presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain as if next week s Ohio primary

election were already over.

At a rally with about 8,000 people at Ohio State University, the Illinois senator bristled at Mr. McCain s reaction to Mr. Obama s response to a debate question

Tuesday night in Cleveland.

Mr. Obama said he would consider using military force within Iraq to strike al-Qaeda if the terrorist group establishes a base there after he withdraws U.S. troops, as he has promised to do as president.

Mr. McCain was campaigning in Texas, which also holds its primary Tuesday, when he mocked Mr. Obama s statement.

I have some news, he said. Al-Qaeda is in Iraq. It s called al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Mr. Obama continued the news flashes 1,000 miles away.

I have news for John McCain, he said to cheers from the crowd. There was no such thing as al-Qaeda in Iraq until George Bush invaded the country. I ve got some news for John McCain We took our eye off the people who were responsible for 9/11. That would be al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

"John McCain wants to follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell, but all he s done is follow George Bush, he said.

During Tuesday s debate in Cleveland, NBC moderator Tim Russert questioned Mr. Obama and Hillary Clinton as to whether they d be willing to again use American troops to quell a civil war or insurrection in Iraq.

Mr. Obama responded that if al-Qaeda is forming a base in Iraq, then we will have to act in a way that secures the American homeland and our interests abroad.

Both he and Mrs. Clinton have pledged to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq soon after taking office in January, 2009. With polls showing him closing the gap with Mrs. Clinton in what is considered a do-or-die state for her struggling campaign,

Mr. Obama made only passing references to his opponent in next Tuesday s primary.

His chief target was Mr. McCain, the former Vietnam prisoner of war who has made

foreign policy and his support for the unpopular war in Iraq the cornerstone of his campaign.

Today, thanks to the troop surge that Sens. Clinton and Obama opposed, our soldiers have al-Qaeda in Iraq on the run, Mr. McCain said. If Sens. Clinton and Obama have their way, al-Qaeda in Iraq will be resurgent and given a new lease on life, putting U.S. forces back on the defensive, he said.

In his 47-minute speech shortly before flying to Texas, Mr. Obama described Mr. McCain as a genuine American hero.

He deserves our respect, but when it comes to policy, John McCain is looking backward, he said. He s tied to the failed policies of George Bush. He s not

going to change.

A University of Cincinnati Ohio Poll released today suggested Mr. Obama has a better chance at beating Mr. McCain in Ohio than Mrs. Clinton, although hypothetical November matchups in either case remain statistical dead heats.

If the election were held today, 48 percent said they d vote for Mr. Obama and 47 percent for Mr. McCain. In a Clinton-McCain contest, Mr. McCain would get 51 percent of the vote to Mrs. Clinton s 47 percent. Both results are within the margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.

Despite voting twice for President Bush, Republican Bonnie Schutte, 45, of Mount Vernon, said she hopes to vote for Mr. Obama in November.

If he doesn t win the Democratic nomination, she said she may prefer to stay home rather than vote for Mr. McCain or Mrs. Clinton.

I ve never done that before, she said. For the past 16 years, it s been the lesser of two evils. This time I m very excited to choose Obama.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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