Obama in the ‘Loo responds to Clinton camp

During a news conference this morning in Waterloo, Iowa (hence the ‘Loo reference in the headline), Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama responded to the recent comments a key Clinton supporter in New Hampshire made about Obama’s admitted drug use as a youth. 

Obama was first asked about "the tone" of the meeting he had on the tarmac two days ago with Hillary Clinton — it was at this meeting that Clinton personally apologized to Obama.  (UPDATE:  Here’s the 14 minute mp3 of the news conference if you want to download and listen.)

"I’m not sure it was 10 minutes.  We were both getting on our planes on the way to the debate.  She asked my staff if I would come around the plane to speak to her.  We met on the tarmac.  She apologized for Billy Shaheen’s remarks.  I appreciated the apology.  I suggested that both, that all campaigns had surrogates who are eager to have their candidates win and it’s important for us at, as the heads of our campaigns and our, you know, to make sure that we’re sending a clear message that this is not the kind of tone that we should tolerate and you know at that point she got on the plane," Obama said.

Are you satisfied with her apology?

"I’m not going to characterize it beyond what I just said," Obama replied.

Bill Clinton has raised the question of Obama’s experience, asking when was the last time someone with less than a term in the US Senate was elected president.  What’s Obama’s response?

"Well, I think this is an argument that, you know, they’ve been making during the duration of this campaign.  I guess, here’s a quote: ‘The same old experience isn’t relevant.  You can have the right kind of experience or the wrong kind of experience and mine is rooted in the real lives of real people and it will bring real results if we have the courage to change,’ and that was Bill Clinton in 1992," Obama said.

But he had been governor.

"Well, and I’ve been involved in govt for over a decade, so the notion that there is a particular kind of experience that he has had or his wife has had that is more relevant, I would dispute.  I believe that I have the experience that this country needs right now, bringing people together, pushing against the special interests, of speaking to the American people about what needs to be done to move the country forward and I think that’s why we’re doing relatively well in this race," Obama said.

Next, a question about compiling all the Clinton camp attacks and considering whether they are personal in an attempt to "draw you out."

"Well, look, I mean you know, when I was 20 points down, they all thought I was a wonderful guy," Obama replied, laughing.  "So, obviously things have changed here in Iowa and elsewhere in the country and I understand that and that’s the kind of politics we’ve become accustomed to, but what I know is these families and families all across America are looking at how we solve problems and they desperately want to see change and they’re much less interested in my kindergarten years or my teenage years than they are in the futures of their children and their grandchildren and that’s what I’m going to be fighting for during the course of this campaign."

Are Americans more forgiving about past drug use these days?

"You know, I can’ say for, how Americans think generally about it.  I do think the average American believes that  what somebody does when they were a teenager 30 years ago is probably not relevant to how they are going to be performing as commander-in-chief and president of the United States.  I think people have pretty good judgment about that."

What do you think Clinton was referring to when she mentioned there were no surprises with her candidacy, suggesting she’d been "vetted" in ways other candidates haven’t.

"I mean, you’d have to ask her what she’s referring to, but here’s my suspicion.  I think the argument they’re making is that they’ve been around a long time and so whatever negative information is out there people already know and they assumption then is that, you know, lurking in other candidates’ past who haven’t been around for 20 years there might be something.  Now, what I know is that John McCormick here and the Tribune did a pretty exhaustive series on me.  I’ve written two books.  I’ve probably been more reported on than any political figure in the country over the last year.  You guys’ve been doing a pretty good job and so I hardly think that I’ve been underexposed during the course of this race, but here’s the important point — I understand that there’s a history of politics being all about slash and burn and takin’ folks down and what I recall the Clintons themselves calling the politics of personal destruction, which they decried and you know, my suspicion is that that’s just not where the country’s at right now.  They are not interested in politics as a blood sport.  They’re interested in governance and solving problems, figuring out how people get health care, figuring how kids are going to go to college, figuring out how to keep good jobs in America, figuring out how we keep our toys safe so our children don’t get hurt," Obama said.

A follow-up question on the blood sport angle.

"All I can say is that tha i’s not what the American people, I think, are looking for right now and that’s part of the reason why, that’s part of the message of change that we’re delivering in this campaign," Obama said.

Question of Obama, asking whether his campaign operatives are gathering "personal" information about rivals.

"I have been very clear to my staff.  Look, every campaign is doing comparitive research on policy," Obama began.

Questioner interrupted with clarification.

"I understand, so I’m just going to answer your question.  Every campaign is going to be looking at, you know, did they flip flop on a health care issues or, you know, are they consistent on their trade policy — that I think is exactly what presidential debates should be about and I have no problem with that at all.  I have been very clear to my campaign.  I do not want to see research that is involved in trying to tear people down personally.  If find out that somebody is doing that, they will be fired.  I’ve been absolutely crystal clear about this and I’ve been clear about this for a very long time and, you know, you’re free to talk to my campaign manager who is around here somewhere for confirmation of that.  That’s not what I believe in.  That’s not who I am and frankly just from a practical, political perspective it’s contrary to the kind o fmessage of change that I’ve been talking about in this campaign."

Follow up to clarify where the line is and whether raising questions about Clinton library financing, records there is fair.

"Well, the only issue that’s come up with respect to the presidential library is when during the last debate when Russert asked ab out it and I was asked about it and I indicated at that time that releasing records and transparency in terms of tax records, for example, that I don’t consider to be trying to undermine somebody.  It has to do with us making sure that we are transparent and accountable and open to the public," Obama said.

So why did members of your staff go to the Little Rock Library?

"That I can’t answer because I don’t know that for certain, but they would not be looking for personal items.  They’d be looking, again, keep in mind that — and this is the argument that I made earlier — Senator Clinton’s argued that her experience as first lady is relevant.  That means we and what I said publicly was if you are saying that this is your relevant experience, we should know what decisions you were involved in in the White House.  That is part of her public function and part of the argument she’s making publicly in terms of why she would be a better president," Obama said.

Clinton’s argue you have an advantage in Iowa because you’re from neighboring Illinois.

"Look, if they’re suggesting that I as this callow youth from, uh, somehow had a structural advantage in Iowa relative to the Clinton operation and the former president of the United States, you know that doesn’t strike me as a real plausible argument but what I do believe is that we have done a great job organizing on the ground and I’m very proud of it.  I’m proud of the people who’ve been out here working for the last nine months, developing relationships, listening to Iowa Caucus-goers and that I do think has made a difference.  We have done a terrific job organizing on the ground.  We’ve put in a lot of time here.  We’ve taken it very seriously and there probably does, there probably is an advantage to me having a Midwestern sensibility and, you know, a lot of the issues that are of concern here are ones that I’ve worked on before and I’m familiar with and care deeply about," Obama said.

What would Des Moinss Register endorsement mean and how much stock should Iowa Caucus-goers place in such an endorsement?

"Well, it depends on whether I get the endorsement or not," Obama said, pausing to smile broadly.  "Look, obviously we would love to have the endorsement of the Des Moines Register and any newspaper here in Iowa, you know, I think it would be disingenuous to pretend we haven’t actively sought it but I don’t think it overrides whatever work has been done out in the field, you know, in townhall meetings and in precinct captain organizing and all the stuff that involves direct contact with voters.  I think that, ultimately, makes more difference."

If you would care to refer to Clinton’s news conference yesterday, you may listen to it by downloading the mp3 here.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.


  1. Drew Sedrel says

    Was this all he was asked? I mean, is the transcript complete?
    I wish I’d heard more about the non-mandatory part of his health care plan– he has pointed out making it a mandate will lose key possible moderate support in the Senate, where it takes sixty votes, and Clinton has used that to argue his plan is somehow less, despite being better-funded, according to independent economists such as Paul Krugman of the New York Times.
    I think this emphasis on tone may help Obama, but nearly as much as an emphasis on issues would.

  2. Wow. Obama has really hit his strides. What a gentleman.
    The only experience Bill Clinton reminds me of, is his causing the Democrats to lose the US Congress and majority Governors.
    Obama will restore America to its greatness, so help me God. And bring Honor and integrity back to the White House.

  3. I am confused about Bill Clinton saying Obama is ahead in Illinois cuz he is from there. Last I heard, Hillary was born and raised in Illinois.

  4. You can recognize the truth when you hear it. He does actually answer questions with specific information.He is consistent, honest, and his integrity just shines through. This is how he will be answering questions as President. Not doublespeaking and pollwatching or just plain lying like the Clintons!!!

  5. Marc Feldstein says

    Sen. Obama was right on about a few things:
    -Bill Clinton did not have national experience when elected President.
    -Obama didn’t let the media shape his answers or encourage him to say more than he planned to.
    -He also could have let loose and read the Clinton’s the riot act though he did not. He demonstrated that the Clintons are disingenuious or hypocritical with regard to their complaints about experience (Hillary ‘learned on the job’ as Senator), drugs (who didn’t inhale?), etc.
    Obama is a class act that America would be honored to have as President!

  6. I agree with the comments from cotati7.
    Obama will restore integrity to the White House and to this country if elected. The way he deals cleanly with the disparaging comments is just how he will as president. He wont be a poll seeker. He’ll be seeking to do what is right for the people.

  7. What a powerful statement it would be to elect this wonderful statesman. To the US it would be the best antidote after GW Bush. To the world, they would find pause to once again look up to the US as the moral leader.
    In the bargain, we would get a level headed, charismatic, pragmatist who would build consensus with a moral authority rather than the belligerent, egotistical, confrontational politics we have gotten used to in the absence of strong presidential leadership.
    I sure hope we see past these politicians of the past and their dirty political tricks.
    How refreshing.

  8. When Oprah was hanging on Obama’s coat-tails he was high on the possibility of winning. Now it is obvious to REAL Amerca sees him as a star which has not risen yet and Americans know well what is at stake with the wars and resession and we need someone who is ready to lead, that person is Senator Clinton.
    As far as the drugs in younger years, he brings more unwanted attention and the co-chair from the Clinton camp resigned. Why do we let men pounce on a woman, but when the black candidate pounces on a woman we allow it. The old double stanadrd is alive and well. Too bad. Men are still very threatened by strong profesional woman. 21ST Century guys get over it.
    Senator Clinton happens to be ready and she CAN stand up to the Republican hate machine. She and Bill are scar resistant and know how to fight back and win.

  9. Richard - San Diego, CA says

    If this race has truly narrowed to just between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, then I wish Obama godspeed and he has my vote when it comes to California. I cannot imagine 4 or 8 years of Clinton-bashing and Clinton-defending, while Hillary triangulates on the issues and nothing important is accomplished. Not that I think she can even get elected in a general election. She’s too polarizing–on both the right AND the left. John Edwards is truly viable candidate who can win, and is committed to change, but has unfortunately been much too ignored by the media’s hype of a 2-person race among the Democratic contenders. It’s up to Iowa to keep Edwards in the race. If he doesn’t win there, I think it will be over and I hope he promptly endorses Obama so that the progressive vote won’t get split. Hillary is only running out of personal ambitions; she wants to be President, therefore she thinks we owe her a coronation. Edwards and Obama actually want to clean house and get things done.