COLUMBUS, Ohio (CNN) – Presidential frontrunners Barack Obama and John McCain clashed over Iraq policy Wednesday, as the Illinois Democrat directed most of his criticism at the Arizona Republican – not his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton – during a campaign stop in this capital city six days before next week’s primary.
“John McCain may like to say he wants to follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell, but so far all he’s done is follow George Bush into a misguided war in Iraq,” Obama said.
Earlier, McCain released a statement that attacked Obama for his comments at Tuesday’s debate that were critical of the Iraq war.
"Last night, we also heard Sen. Obama say that once he withdrew US forces from Iraq he would 'reserve the right' to act 'if Al Qaeda is forming a base in Iraq,'” McCain said in the statement. “Is Sen. Obama unaware that Al Qaeda is still present in Iraq, that our forces are successfully fighting them every day, and that his Iraq policy of withdrawal would embolden Al Qaeda and weaken our security?
“Where is the audacity of hope when it comes to backing the success of our troops all the way to victory in Iraq? What we heard last night was the timidity of despair. Our allies deserve better, our soldiers deserve better, and so do the American people."
During his appearance at Ohio State University, Obama accused McCain of trying to score cheap political points.
“McCain thought that he could make a clever point by saying 'Well, let me give you some news, Barack, al Qaida IS in Iraq,' like I wasn’t reading the papers, like I didn’t know what was going on. …”
“But I have some news for John McCain, and that is that there was no such thing as al Qaida in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade Iraq… he took us into war along with George Bush that should have never been authorized and should have never been waged.
Obama continued, “They took their eye off the people who were responsible for 9/11, and that would be al Qaida in Afghanistan that is stronger now than at any time since 2001. I’ve been paying attention, John McCain! That’s the news. So John McCain may like to say he wants to follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell, but so far all he’s done is follow George Bush into a misguided war in Iraq…”
Obama’s appearance was one of his first forays to the Central Ohio city that lies at the heart of what has traditionally been one of the most hotly-contested general election battleground areas in this bellwether state.
On Wednesday, the Obama campaign also announced the endorsement of North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan, and that the number of donors had surpassed one million.
– CNN’s Rebecca Sinderbrand and Chris Welch