With her back against the wall, Hillary Clinton has been accused of turning to the sort of smear tactics more commonly associated with Republicans, in an attempt to block her opponent Barack Obama from getting the Democratic nomination. Over the weekend her campaign allegedly circulated a photograph of Mr Obama wearing the turban and traditional dress of a Somali elder.
For the past year the Obama team has been fighting back against a whispering campaign that he is a dangerous Muslim. Mr Obama was born a Christian and attends a United Church of Christ congregation in Chicago. Whoever is responsible for the release of the photograph, ahead of votes in Texas and Ohio next week, it appears to be an attempt to use rumour and innuendo to derail Mr Obama's buoyant campaign.
Mr Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, said: "On the very day that Senator Clinton is giving a speech about restoring respect for America in the world, her campaign has engaged in the most shameful, offensive fear-mongering we've seen from either party in this election. This is part of a disturbing pattern that led her county chairs to resign in Iowa, her campaign chairman to resign in New Hampshire, and it's exactly the kind of divisive politics that turns away Americans of all parties and diminishes respect for America in the world."
Mr Obama's foreign policy adviser, Susan Rice, who worked on Bill Clinton's National Security Policy staff, said the circulation of the photograph was divisive and suggested "that the customs and cultures of other parts of the world are worthy of ridicule or condemnation".
The photograph was taken while the African-American candidate was on a five-country congressional visit to the continent in 2006. It would be innocuous enough if Mr Obama, whose father was born in Kenya, was not seeking to become the first black president of the US and if his middle name was not Hussein.
In recent days, Mrs Clinton's attacks on Mr Obama have become more strident and shrill, as he has narrowed her lead in the polls. A Quinnipiac University poll out yesterday showed her leading in Ohio by an 11-point margin with 51 percent, whereas less two weeks ago she had held a 21-point lead.
"We've seen the tragic result of having a president who had neither the experience nor the wisdom to manage our foreign policy and safeguard our national security. We can't let that happen again," she said yesterday at a foreign policy speech in Washington.
Knowing that 4 March could be her last stand, Mrs Clinton has become a populist campaigner attacking "companies shamelessly turning their backs on Americans" and sending jobs abroad, and complaining that billionaires have lower tax rates than working people.
But all that was overshadowed by the photograph yesterday that was posted online by the Drudge Report, alongside an explanatory article saying "Clinton staffers" were circulating the image, and quotes from an email by a campaign aide. Several months ago two volunteers for Mrs Clinton were dismissed after sending out an email to the effect that Mr Obama was a Muslim. This photograph shows Mr Obama in a white turban and traditional white robe, presented to him by village elders in Wajir, in north-eastern Kenya. Mrs Clinton's new hard-line campaign manager, Maggie Williams, called the Obama campaign's reaction over the top.
"Enough," Ms Williams said. "If Barack Obama's campaign wants to suggest that a photo of him wearing traditional Somali clothing is divisive, they should be ashamed. Hillary Clinton has worn the traditional clothing of countries she has visited and had those photos published widely."
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