By Caren Bohan
CHICAGO (Reuters) – Barack Obama, fresh from losses in Ohio and Texas, on Wednesday promised a more aggressive approach in his battle with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The Illinois senator vented frustration at what he called a â€œvery negativeâ€ campaign his rival had run against him in recent days and said it seemed to be a factor in his setback.
The attacks â€œhad some impact,â€ Obama told reporters as he headed back to his home city of Chicago from Texas, a state that along with Ohio and Rhode Island went to the former first lady and New York senator, breaking his monthlong winning streak and breathing new life into Clintonâ€™s campaign.
Clinton labeled Obama, a first-term senator, too inexperienced to lead U.S. foreign policy. She pressed that charge with an ad juxtaposing sleeping children, the sound of a ringing White House phone and an ominous warning that if a world crisis were to erupt, Americans need a â€œtestedâ€ leader.
Clinton also criticized what she called Obamaâ€™s inconsistencies on hemispheric trade, an issue important in Ohio, where many voters blame trade deals for job losses.
â€œShe made the experience argument that she has been making repeatedly, particularly around foreign policy and her ability to handle a crisis. I think itâ€™s important to examine that claim and not just allow her to assert it, which I think has been going on for quite some time,â€ Obama said.
What is this experience?
Instead of only his usual message that he is better equipped to lead on foreign policy because he showed better judgment than Clinton by opposing the Iraq war early on, the Illinois senator bluntly derided Clintonâ€™s assertion that her eight years as first lady counted as foreign policy seasoning.
â€œI hope people start asking, what exactly is this foreign experience that sheâ€™s claiming? I know she talks about visiting 80 countries, itâ€™s not clear, was she negotiating treaties or agreements, or was she handling crises during this period of time?â€ Obama asked.
As the Clinton campaign has urged reporters to more closely examine Obamaâ€™s ties to a Chicago developer, Tony Rezko, facing federal corruption charges, Obama suggested Clintonâ€™s record on ethics should be fair game, too.
â€œSheâ€™s made the argument that sheâ€™s thoroughly vetted in contrast to me,â€ Obama said. â€œI think itâ€™s important to examine that argument because, if the suggestion is somehow that on issues of ethics or disclosure or transparency, that somehow sheâ€™s going to have a better record than I have, and will be better able to withstand Republican attacks, I think thatâ€™s an issue that should be tested.â€
Obama also expressed pique at her argument that some of her wins in big states like California and Ohio were more significant than his sweep of many small states like Idaho and Nebraska.
â€œThis notion that somehow the, all the states I win, are somehow are not bellwether states, but the states that Senator Clinton wins, those are the important ones, is a strange way of keeping score and I donâ€™t think it makes much sense,â€ he said.
Some political strategists warn that going negative can backfire, especially in primary contests within a party.
And a central message of Obamaâ€™s candidacy is his pledge to rise above the divisive politics of the past.
Clinton, who poured her energy over the last few weeks into salvaging her candidacy, did not seem to flinch from the role of aggressor, as she told Ohio voters she was a â€œfighterâ€ and â€œdoerâ€ ready to take on big corporations and other interests blamed by some working class voters for their economic struggles.