Obama Takes Hits, Seeks Support in Texas

In the latest sign that Barack Obama is considered the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, both his rival, Hillary Clinton, and Republican front-runner John McCain attacked him this week. Obama is in Texas, which holds a crucial primary Tuesday.

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Meanwhile, Barack Obama has been adjusting to life as the clear frontrunner. And while Obama's attacks have increasingly targeted Republican John McCain, the senator is also keeping a close eye on Hillary Clinton.

NPR's Don Gonyea has been on the campaign trail with Obama.

DON GONYEA: Watching Barack Obama on stage in a big rally in an arena rocking with thrilled supporters, he is a mix of self-assuredness and cockiness.

(Soundbite of cheers and applause)

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): All right, all right, everybody settle down. We're having too much fun here. We're having too much fun.

GONYEA: But on his campaign plane yesterday, somewhere over central Texas, the candidate is confident but low-key when asked about next week's primaries.

Sen. OBAMA: The standard plan is working tirelessly, as is Bill Clinton. We have both Ohio and Texas. These races are extraordinarily tight and I want to make sure that we are doing everything we can to win these next two contests. That's how we wanted to pass, just focusing on the one that's in front of us.

GONYEA: Obama is asked if people are writing the Hillary Clinton obituary prematurely.

Sen. OBAMA: Well, I am not. I am not. Remember New Hampshire.

GONYEA: That's the state where late polls gave Obama a solid lead but where Hillary Clinton won. But there's no question that Senator Obama is now the frontrunner, and as such he's coming under attack from multiple fronts.

Nationally, the Republican Party is testing how it will work to discredit him. On Wednesday, John McCain drew support of laughter at a campaign stop when he mocked Obama by saying that the Democrat didn't know there is an al-Qaida presence in Iraq. Obama shot back immediately saying al-Qaida is only in Iraq because of a misguided war that John McCain supported. But McCain kept at it yesterday in Houston.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): So, let me get this right. Senator Obama wants to leave immediately from Iraq, but if al-Qaida is in Iraq, then he would consider going back. Obviously, that's not logical.

GONYEA: McCain then added.

Sen. McCAIN: There's a lot at stake here, my friends. There's a great deal at stake here in our nation's security.

GONYEA: Then there are attacks like this new TV ad from the Clinton campaign. It shows a red phone in the Oval Office.

(Soundbite of campaign ad)

Unidentified Man #1: It's 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep. But there's a phone in the White House and it's ringing. Something's happening in the world. Your vote will decide who answers that call. Whether it's someone who already knows the world's leaders, knows the military, someone tested and ready to lead in a dangerous world.

GONYEA: In a conference call with reporters today, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe responded to the barrage of criticism being directed at Obama. He's on the speaker phone.

Mr. DAVID PLOUFFE (Campaign Manager, Obama Campaign): You know, it makes our days more interesting, for sure. But, you know, listen, I think John McCain and Hillary Clinton showed the same judgment on Iraq, for instance.

You know, I think they both are a part of a conventional way of thinking as it relates to American foreign policy, which is a mindset that needs to change.

GONYEA: Meanwhile, Senator Obama told reporters on his plane that the reason he's spending so much more time talking about John McCain these days is because McCain is going after him and not because he's already running a general election campaign.

Still, at rallies like this one last night in Fort Worth, he playfully makes the case to any doubters that he's ready for whatever he would face as the nominee.

Sen. OBAMA: Then you got folks who are saying, well, you know what, I don't know if Obama - how he's going to stack up(ph) with these Republicans. They're tough; they're mean. And you know what? What I tell people is, look, first of all, I'm from Chicago.

(Soundbite of cheers and applause)

Sen. OBAMA: I'm from the South Side.

(Soundbite of cheers and applause)

GONYEA: And that is the Obama campaign this week running against Hillary Clinton but also against John McCain, while knowing that it's critical to do well next Tuesday if he hopes to be able to officially begin looking ahead to November anytime soon.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Fort Worth.

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