Clinton the Odd One Out as Obama and McCain Spar

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New York Sen. Hillary Clinton is still running for president, but you might not know that from the rhetoric between Democratic rival Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

Although the Democratic presidential nomination may well be decided at the party's convention in August, Clinton seems to have been left in the cold. Obama has been acting more like a general election candidate, reserving his fire for McCain, who in turn has trained his sights exclusively on Obama.

Both McCain and Obama have made it a point at campaign events to address their respect for each other. But what seems like mutual admiration is essentially a pre-amble to a strong, sharp critique that's not all about the issues.

"John McCain has decided to run for George Bush's third term, and we can't afford it," Obama proclaimed in a recent speech.

The same pattern holds for McCain.

"For a young man with very little experience, he's done very well," the presumptive Republican nominee has said of Obama.

The back and forth on the issue of Iran and whether the U.S. should negotiate with that country's leaders has been particularly intense.

At an event in Billings, Mont., Obama asked, "What is ... John McCain afraid of? Demanding that a country meets all your conditions before you meet with them, that's not a strategy. That's just naive, wishful thinking."

That prompted this retort from McCain: "I think it displays a degree of naivete and clearly someone who's not ready to be president of the United States."

Much has also been made about the age difference McCain and Obama. The Republican is 25 years older than the Democrat. Obama has referred to the gap indirectly by saying McCain represents the old way of doing things in Washington.

McCain's words on the subject were more direct. "With his very, very great lack of experience and knowledge of the issues, he's been very successful. So don't get me wrong, I admire and respect Senator Obama, but he does not have the knowledge, background or judgment to lead this nation in these difficult and challenging times," McCain said several days ago in Stockton, Calif.

Obama, meanwhile, has gone after McCain over the fact that registered lobbyists have played key roles in his campaign. Several staffers have left or been asked to leave after revelations about foreign clients they've represented. One had even lobbied McCain on behalf of the government of Saudi Arabia.

"The fact is John McCain's campaign is being run by Washington lobbyists and paid for with their money," Obama said. "Senator McCain has been a candidate in this race for more than a year, but has only in the last few days when stories surfaced publicly about his lobbyist aides and their clients that Senator McCain taken any action to curb their role."

McCain shot back by noting that early in Obama's political career he had a connection to William Ayers, who in the 1960s was a member of the radical Weather Underground.

Such salvoes are a sure indication that the candidates' promises to run on the issues don't mean sharp elbows won't be thrown — if indeed these two candidates make their emerging rivalry official in the fall.

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