RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign took a sharp new track over the past week. She and her surrogates are portraying her top Democratic rival and fellow Senator Barack Obama as inconsistent in his position on the war in Iraq. They've made some highly critical claims about Obama's record.
NPR's David Welna takes a closer look at the Iraq war record of both candidates.
DAVID WELNA: It was former President Bill Clinton who drew first blood in the new assault on Obama's Iraq war positions. The scene was a campaign stop in New Hampshire the same day Hillary Clinton won that state's primary. The former president had been complaining the news media paid too little attention to Obama's record on the war. He then pointed an accusing finger at Obama.
President BILL CLINTON: You said in 2004, there was no difference between you and George Bush on the war, and you took that speech are now running on off your Web site in 2004 and there's no difference in your voting record and Hillary's ever since. Give me a break.
(Soundbite of applause)
Pres. CLINTON: This whole thing is the biggest fairytale I've ever seen.
WELNA: And that's had Obama's allies rushing to his defense for the past week. Here's Illinois' other Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, yesterday on MSNBC.
Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): There has never been a single moment since Barack Obama expresses his opposition to this war when he has wavered. He has been strong, and to call this a fairy tale is just unfair.
WELNA: One thing everyone agrees on is that Barack Obama made a speech in 2002 as an Illinois state senator, strongly opposing a war with Iraq. It was a week before Hillary Clinton voted in the Senate to authorize the use of force against Iraq. But in an appearance Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press, Clinton accused Obama of having failed to follow through.
(Soundbite of show, Meet the Press)
Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Democrat Presidential Candidate): If he was against the war in 2002, he should have strongly spoke out in 2004. He should have followed what he said in his speech, which was that he would not vote for funding in '05, '06 and '07.
WELNA: In fact, Obama said nothing in that 2002 speech about not voting for war funding, that was two years before he was even elected to the Senate. Obama did say in a campaign speech in 2003 though that he would have voted against $87 billion in war funding approved by the Senate, but it's also true that Obama repeatedly voted for such war funding once he got to the Senate. He defended to that stance in a December 2006 interview.
Sen. OBAMA: I don't see any inclination on the part of those of us in Congress to cut off funding. I think that if we're going to have America's young men and women there fighting, we have an obligation to make sure that they got the best equipment, the body armor, the resources they need to come home safely.
WELNA: Clinton also accused Obama on "Meet the Press" of having kept quiet too long on Iraq.
(Soundbite of show, "Meet the Press")
Sen. CLINTON: When he became a senator, he didn't go to the floor of the Senate to condemn the war in Iraq for 18 months. He didn't introduce legislation against the war in Iraq.
WELNA: It's true that Obama did not give a floor speech against the war until June 2006. He did, however, introduced legislation a year ago and about the time he opened an exploratory committee for a presidential bid that called for U.S. troops to be withdrawn from Iraq by next April.
Sen. OBAMA: If we truly believe that the only solution in Iraq is a political one - and I fervently believe that - if we believe that a phased redeployment of U.S. forces in Iraq is the best, perhaps only leverage we have to force a settlement between the country's warring factions, then we should act on it.
WELNA: As for Clinton's vote authorizing the use of force in Iraq, she defended it on Meet the Press by invoking the name of a Republican Senate colleague, long critical of the war.
(Soundbite of show, Meet the Press)
Sen. CLINTON: It is absolutely unfair to say that the vote as Chuck Hagel, who was one of the architects of the resolution, had said, was a vote for war.
WELNA: Senator Hagel, in fact, helped draft a competing resolution that would have limited the scope of the war. The truth is that Obama and Clinton now hold remarkably similar views on the war, both want a speedy withdrawal of U.S. forces. As Clinton battles for votes though, she's highlighting Obama's record in the Senate while he insists he's shown better judgment by opposing the war from the start.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
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