DE PERE, Wis. -- Top advisers to Hillary Rodham Clinton accused Democratic rival Barack Obama of plagiarism Monday, the latest effort by her campaign to undermine the Illinois senator's credibility.
File photo shows Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) (L) and former Senator John Edwards (D-NC) laughing at the CNN/Congressional Black Caucus Institute Democratic Party presidential debate at the Palace Theatre in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina January 21, 2008. [Agencies]
Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson, during a conference call with reporters, pointed to a speech Obama delivered at a Democratic Party dinner in Wisconsin Saturday that lifted lines from an address given last year by his friend, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.
The Associated Press reported in January that Obama had borrowed ideas and speech points from Patrick, often without attribution. But with Obama now leading in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, Clinton's campaign is using this example in an attempt to chip away at the premise of his candidacy.
The passage in question from Obama's speech addressed the power of oratory, and he used it to rebut Clinton's oft-repeated charge that he is long on rhetoric and short on policy specifics.
"Don't tell me words don't matter," Obama told the Wisconsin audience. "'I have a dream' -- just words? 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal' -- just words? 'We have nothing to fear but fear itself' -- just words? Just speeches?"
Patrick used similar language during his 2006 governor's race to push back on similar charges from his GOP opponent.
"'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal' -- just words? Just words?" Patrick said. "'We have nothing to fear but fear itself' -- just words? 'Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.' Just words? 'I have a dream' -- just words?"
Clinton's campaign posted video clips on YouTube to illustrate the similarities in Obama's and Patrick's speeches.
The charges came a day before Wisconsin's presidential primary, where polls indicate a tight race between the two. The contest featured the first negative television ads of the campaign -- from Clinton, criticizing Obama for refusing to debate her in the state before the primary.
A day earlier, Wolfson criticized Obama for backing away from a pledge to accept public funding if he is the Democratic nominee, saying Obama had engaged in a pattern of walking away from promises.
Monday, Wolfson said the two matters were related.
"If you ask voters to judge you on the basis of promises and you break them, or on the basis of rhetoric and you lift it, there's not much else there," he said.
The accusations momentarily put Obama on the defensive and distracted from a tour in Ohio where he hoped to focus on the economy.
At a news conference, Obama acknowledged trading ideas with Patrick and said he and the Massachusetts governor occasionally had borrowed language from each other. Obama said he probably should have credited Patrick but said the oversight didn't indicate a pattern of deception.
"I've written two books, wrote most of my speeches. So I think putting aside the question ... in terms of whether my words were my own, I think that would be carrying it too far," Obama said.
He noted that Clinton occasionally had borrowed language from him.
"I really don't think this is too big of a deal," Obama said. "When Senator Clinton says 'It's time to turn the page' in one of her stump speeches or says she's 'fired up and ready to go,' I don't think that anybody suggests that she's not focused on the issues that she's focused on."
He hit back harder at a rally in Youngstown, Ohio, turning Clinton's criticism of his speeches into a biting critique of her past support of trade deals, including the North American Free Trade Agreement.
"She says speeches don't put food on the table. You know what? NAFTA didn't put food on the table, either," Obama said, bringing the Rust Belt crowd to its feet.