OSHKOSH, Wisconsin (CNN) – Nearly a year after Barack Obama called on all of his potential general election foes to sign on to a public financing pact, likely GOP nominee John McCain accused the Illinois senator of having a change of heart sparked by his massive fundraising haul.
“It was very clear to me that Sen. Obama had agreed to having public financing of the general election campaign if I did the same thing,” said McCain at a Wisconsin campaign stop Friday. “I made the commitment to the American people that if I were the nominee of my party I would go the route of public financing, I expect Sen. Obama to keep his word to the American people as well.”
Under the agreement, both men would have to forgo private donations entirely in favor of a publicly-funded campaign.
At this point, McCain stands to gain the most from a public financing pledge – Obama has raised nearly three times as much in general election funds. Under the guidelines, both men would be required to return any money they had raised for that contest.
On Friday, Obama seemed to avoid committing to the agreement. "It would be presumptuous of me to start saying now that I'm locking myself into something when I don't even know if the other side is going to agree to it."
Last year, both Obama and his campaign promised to “aggressively pursue” such an agreement with their Republican counterpart. No major party candidate has opted out of the public financing system for the general election since it was created more than three decades ago.
McCain had decided to accept public financing of his primary season campaign last summer – but eventually opted out of the system before accepting funds because it would have limited the amount he would be allowed to spend to $54 million until the Republican Party’s nominating convention this summer.
That scenario promised to seriously handicap his effort if he were to become his party’s nominee and face a well-funded opponent with no spending limits.
–CNN’s Tasha Diakides, Chris Welch and Rebecca Sinderbrand
(CNN) – In the latest installment of CNN=Politics Daily, Jessica Yellin covers the escalating fight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
And bigger battles continue to loom ahead as top Democrats face off over the role of Michigan and Florida. Both states were stripped of their delegates after moving up their primaries in violation of DNC rules. Now, the campaign of Hillary Clinton – who came up the winner in both states – is calling for them to be seated at the party’s summer convention after all. Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider explains what this means for the Democratic nomination.
For the Republicans, the flood of McCain endorsements continues. CNN has learned former President George H. W. Bush is set to endorse the Arizona senator next week in Texas. Candy Crowley gives a weekend wrap on the Republican candidates from Chicago.
Plus: The presidential candidate with the biggest military fundraising haul is also the one with the most hard-line stand against U.S. involvement in Iraq. Brian Todd divulges who tops the field when it comes to military donations.
Finally, CNN’s Jenifer Mikell serves up trail mix—the most memorable moments from the campaign trail this week.
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–CNN’s Emily Sherman
(CNN) – In interviews with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, 1992 U.S. Olympic “Dream team” members Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley played political pundits and addressed the much-talked-about possibility of the a Democratic “dream ticket” involving rivals Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
“My dream team would be Obama-Clinton, not Clinton-Obama,” explained Charles Barkley who is also an analyst for TNT.
“I want Barack to be president. …I just think we need a new face, we need a new leader,” Barkley added.
“I hope really that both of them end up on the same ticket,” said Clinton supporter Magic Johnson in a separate interview with Blitzer.
“I would really love seeing that and I think a lot of other people would love seeing that as well,” he added.
Although Johnson said he would support Obama if the first-term senator won the Democratic nomination, the NBA legend likened a ticket with Clinton as the presidential nominee and Obama as the vice presidential nominee to “Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic all playing together on the dream team.”
Barkley likewise told Blitzer that he would support Clinton if she were the Democratic nominee and that if Obama became vice president “that’s good.”
Related video: Magic Johnson on Clinton
–CNN Associate Producer Martina Stewart
(CNN) – On Friday, the newest negative ad hit the airwaves in Wisconsin – the third such spot launched by a Democratic presidential campaign in three days.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign unveiled an ad Wednesday that took aim at Barack Obama for turning down an offer to debate her in Wisconsin before the state’s February 19 primary, tying the decision to his stands on other issues.
Obama’s campaign struck back the next day with a spot that responded to Clinton’s, calling the original ad an instance of "the same old politics of phony charges and false attacks."
Today, Clinton’s campaign debuted ‘Deserves,’ a response to what it called “false attacks” in the Obama spot.
"Barack Obama still won't agree to debate in Wisconsin,” says the announcer in the 30-second ad, which will also air in Wisconsin. “And now he's hiding behind false attack ads.”
The ad criticized Obama’s stands on issues like health care and Social Security, and asked
“Why won’t Barack Obama debate these differences? Wisconsin deserves better.”
The state's voters head to the polls next Tuesday.
–CNN Associate Political Editor Rebecca Sinderbrand
NEW ORLEANS (CNN) – The Lower Ninth Ward here in New Orleans is so depressing. I spent part of the day driving around the miles and miles of destruction. Whole blocks are just empty lots. Where homes once stood, there are now only concrete slabs left. You see an occasional trailer where a family has tried to re-establish their lives. Some of the residents are trying to rebuild their actual homes. But it’s extremely difficult.
My guide was Peter Kovacs, the managing editor of The Times-Picayune, the newspaper that won a Pulitzer for its coverage of Katrina. He’s been through this area so many times. He knows the empty lots and the missing people who have been forced to resettle elsewhere around the country. He’s not upbeat about the Lower Ninth Ward ever being what it was. What a sad story.
In the course of the tour, we came upon Charmyne Fluker. She was visiting there with her elderly mother who had lived in a home in the neighborhood for years – only to see it wiped away by the storm. They were forced to move to North Carolina. This was the first time her mother had come back to see the devastation and to understand why there was no real opportunity of actually coming home. Charmyne told me her mom had to see the area with her own eyes in order to reach finality.
There is so much that needs to be done. What is encouraging, Kovacs told me, is that about a million people from all over the country have come to New Orleans since Katrina to volunteer some of their time to help rebuild. Some spend a day; others weeks.
This weekend, the NBA is having its All-Star Game here. NBA officials, players, coaches, and fans are doing their part – painting, cleaning and building. But they are also doing their part by simply being here.
–CNN Anchor Wolf Blitzer
The match-up would pit the 71-year-old McCain, who if elected would become the oldest president ever, against the 46-year-old Obama, who would be one of the youngest.
We're starting to get a glimpse of what this race would be all about. By seizing on the mantle of change, Obama has drawn record numbers of young voters to the polls who see him a something of a rock star.
And, after their respective victories in the Potomac Primaries on Tuesday, both men seemed to set their sights on each other. McCain called hope a "powerful thing", saying he's seen men's hopes tested in hard and cruel ways.
He then went on to contrast his POW experience with Obama's speeches, adding: "To encourage a country with only rhetoric rather than sound and proven ideas that trust in the strength and courage of free people is not a promise of hope. It is a platitude." Those would be classified as "fightin' words."
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(CNN) – Three supporters of Sen. Barack Obama took the opportunity, in a conference call with reporters Thursday, to suggest Sen. Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton have not been candid with the American public.
Texans “are gonna want people to shoot straight. They’re gonna want straight answers,” said Texas State Senator Kirk Watson.
Citing Sen. Clinton’s latest campaign theme focused on ‘solutions,’ Watson also said residents of his state are going to asking whether Clinton’s health care plan is actually offering solutions or, instead, raising more questions – including how Clinton would enforce the individual coverage mandate in her plan.
Asked by a reporter about an ongoing issue regarding candidates releasing their tax returns, former U.S. senator Bill Bradley linked Sen. Clinton’s refusal to release her tax returns with her failure to disclose what the individual coverage mandate in health care plan would cost.
Representative Jim Cooper of Tennessee followed Bradley saying memos relating to Sen. Clinton’s earlier effort to reform health care during her husband’s administration also have not been disclosed.
“And, as long as we’re on the issue of full disclosure, President Clinton also hasn’t revealed who were the contributors to his presidential library while he was still in office,” added Bradley.
Texas is set to hold its presidential primary on March 4 and Clinton must do well there to keep alive her bid for the Democratic nomination. In 2006, Texas had the highest rate of uninsured residents of any state in the nation, according to the American College of Emergency Physicians.
Sen. Clinton has recently sought to contrast her health care plan with Sen. Obama’s during campaign stops and debates. Former President Bill Clinton also attacked Obama’s health care plan as inadequate while in Texas Friday.
The conference call was held on the same day that Clinton released a new radio ad in Wisconsin touting her health care plan. Wisconsin holds its presidential primaries on March 19.
–CNN Associate Producer Martina Stewart
(CNN) - Barack Obama accused opponent Hillary Clinton Friday of “defending Washington lobbyists” and special interests.
“Yesterday, Sen. Clinton unveiled her latest in a long line of slogans, which argues that she’s proposed solutions while others have not,” said Obama, who returned to the campaign trail in Wisconsin after a one-day break.
He said both candidates had good ideas but that Washington was a place “where good ideas go to die. They’re the victim of petty, partisan politics, point-scoring, and special interest influence that’s out of control. …
“You know, after defending Washington lobbyists as people who ‘represent real Americans’ at a debate in August, Sen. Clinton said yesterday that she would take them on as president,” said Obama, who alleged the New York senator had taken almost twice as much money from lobbyists as any other presidential candidate this cycle.
“That’s not being a part of the solutions business. That’s being a part of business-as-usual in Washington,” said Obama.
The two candidates have been locked in an increasingly bitter war of words as they battle for pledged delegates awarded in primary and caucus votes, and superdelegates, who can shift their allegiance at any time.
–CNN Associate Political Editor Rebecca Sinderbrand
CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) – There are two Americas, all right, but not in the sense that any presidential candidate has ever used the phrase on a campaign-rally stage.
It was from a stage 65 miles west of here, on the campus of Northern Illinois University, that a gunman opened fire yesterday into a class full of students listening to an ocean sciences lecture. That's the most haunting of all the haunting images of the massacre: a man stepping suddenly out of nowhere and onto a stage, and beginning to shoot at the audience.
It's too early, before the funerals have been held, to dwell too closely on the symbolism of that - the previously anonymous would-be murderer seeking, literally, a public stage - but it's not too early to consider the two Americas. They have nothing to do with left or right, with Republican or Democrat, with affluent or impoverished.
They have to do with the America that makes sense - the country in which all of the candidates, regardless of political party, reside - and the America that doesn't, which seems, increasingly, to be the country in which we all too often find ourselves living.
The words that the candidates from both parties have been using on campaign stages for months now - “change,” and “hope,” and “future,” and “progress” - are words from that logical and linear America, the one that relies upon a belief that morning will inexorably follow the darkness. In the other America, though - the insane one, the one we don't like to look at - those words, on a day like today, seem like taunts.
A presidential campaign provides the useful and comforting illusion of controlled chaos - of frantic fighting that, ultimately, is settled with handshakes and smiles and precisely tabulated victories and losses. After months of insults and ill feelings, Mitt Romney and John McCain stand before the cameras together as comrades. The message is: order, in the end, rules. Please disregard the previous mayhem.
(CNN) – One of the nation’s strongest unions, the Service Employees International Union, endorsed Barack Obama for president Friday.
The union’s support comes with a massive grassroots voter outreach effort that is a huge force in Democratic politics. That operation will now work on Obama’s behalf nationwide, including the major primary state battlegrounds of Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania.
In a conference call with reporters, SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger said the union would immediately begin help mobilize its members and resources on the ground in Wisconsin, which votes on Tuesday.
“When we do an endorsement, we take it seriously,” said Burger.
Earlier in the cycle, John Edwards had wooed many SEIU locals, which endorsed his presidential bid. But the national leadership resisted pressure to back a candidate, saying they would remain neutral through the primary season.
Three sources familiar with the deliberations told CNN’s John King Thursday that union leaders had met via conference call that day to deliberate on the endorsement issue – and that Obama had emerged as the overwhelming consensus choice of state and national leadership.
“We have an enormous amount of respect for Sen. Clinton, and appreciate so much what she’s done for us," union president Andy Stern said Friday.
But he cited "excitement" among the union’s 1.9 million members as the major reason for their decision to endorse Obama – a nod that would supplant the state-by-state endorsements by their locals. He did not deny that recent vote results, most of which had favored Obama, had been a factor in the shift.
Thursday, Obama received another major labor endorsement likely to help in those delegate rich-states, when the 1.3-million member United Food and Commercial Workers Union decided to back his presidential bid.
Clinton recently received a major union nod, when the United Farm Workers decided last month to back her White House run.
–CNN Associate Political Editor Rebecca Sinderbrand