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Clinton's Criticism of Obama Nearly Vanishes Overnight


From CBS News' Ryan Corsaro:

PORTLAND, ORE. -- Hillary Clinton had the stage all to herself. With an hour of local television time, just four days before the Oregon primary, she stood next to a chair that was borrowed last minute from the bar across the street.

She was introduced by a local television anchor, who added that only Clinton, and not Barack Obama, had accepted the invitation to participate in a town hall meeting. But it was the only time in the entire hour that his name would be mentioned.

It appears that Clinton, after a week when former candidate John Edwards gave his support to Obama and his superdelegate count passed hers for the first time, has backed down from attacking her rival for the nomination.

Not only that, but Clinton has shifted her focus in the past 24 hours to crediting Obama. It appeared yesterday that she stood by Obama when it was perceived that he was the brunt of President Bush's remarks to Knesset, Israel's parliament, where Bush compared an engagement of talks with Iran's leader as being analogous to Nazi appeasement.

Tonight, the only reference Clinton made before the Portland audience to Obama was complimentary – pointing to how he voted for measures that lessened the strain from high fuel prices on consumers. "There were two state of examples of this in the last seven or eight years, both Illinois and Indiana -- in fact, my opponent voted for it when he was in the Illinois state senate – had a gas tax holiday, and consumers got the benefits of it," she said.

Clinton also released three ads today – two in Kentucky and one in Oregon – that did not mention anything about Obama.

In the town hall, she shifted her attacks back to the Republican opponent. "Senator McCain is a good person. He has a great record of service. But his ideas about what are best for America are just wrong and we saw that again yesterday," Clinton said. "His proposed victory by 2013 in Iraq was not based on any realistic assessment or based on any new strategy. It was an assertion. It sounded a lot like 'Mission Accomplished' only postponed into 2013. And so from my perspective, it's just more of the same. It's a continuation of the Bush policies which have been failures."

Linking McCain to President Bush, a large part of what Democrats believe they must do to win in November, appeared to fall in line with the conversation that Democrats who want Clinton to bow out want now, rather than a continuation of the supposed "kitchen sink" strategy Clinton's campaign had against Obama in the past month.

Her only other reference to Obama during the night was that of neutrality – claiming that while he led in delegates, she led in the popular vote (which is contestable) and won states with more electoral votes than Obama. They both won some, lost some.

There was a silence on the telephone line as well, with Clinton's campaign holding no conference calls with the press – a main source of the trench warfare between Obama and Clinton's camps in recent weeks. What could be seen as too negative to be said by Clinton herself in public was told to the press by her communications team – Howard Wolfson, Phil Singer, and Geoff Garin – all of whom remained strangely quiet.

In the final moments of the town hall meeting, Clinton was asked what her highs and lows had been in the last year of campaigning. Hillary told the audience that the high had been campaigning alongside her daughter, Chelsea.

The low – "sleep deprivation."

But it also appears that when it comes to Obama, the Clinton campaign might have reached that low for one of the last times. Looking forward to catching up on their rest and exhausted by the campaign, Clinton might finally be starting to save strength for defending her Democratic Party.

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