LORAIN, Ohio – Barack Obama accused Democratic presidential rival Hillary Rodham Clinton on Sunday of trying to walk away from a long record of support for NAFTA, the free trade agreement that he said has cost 50,000 jobs in Ohio, site of next week’s primary.
At the same time, he said attempts to repeal the trade deal “would probably result in more job losses than job gains in the United States.”
One day after Clinton angrily accused him of distorting her record on the North American Free Trade Agreement in mass mailings, the Illinois senator was eager to rekindle the long-distance debate, using passages from the former first lady’s book as well as her own words.
“Ten years after NAFTA passed, Senator Clinton said it was good for America,” Obama said. “Well, I don’t think NAFTA has been good for America – and I never have.”
“The fact is, she was saying great things about NAFTA until she started running for president,” Obama told an audience at a factory that makes wall board, located in a working-class community west of Cleveland.
Later, at a rally in Toledo, he rebutted the former first lady’s statement that her husband had merely inherited NAFTA when he won the White House from former President George H.W Bush.
President Clinton “championed NAFTA,” passed it through Congress and signed it into law, Obama said.
A spokesman for Clinton, Phil Singer, said the former first lady was critical of NAFTA long before she ran for president. He cited remarks from March 2000 in which she said, “What happened to NAFTA I think was we inherited an agreement that we didn’t get everything we should have got out of it in my opinion. I think the NAFTA agreement was flawed.”
Clinton, meanwhile, attempted to reassure anxious donors Sunday, outlining a road map she said she will follow to beat Obama in the Ohio and Texas primaries March 4.
Clinton insisted that her campaign is on track and moving forward, despite losing 11 contests to Obama since Feb. 5.
“I am very optimistic and extremely positive about what we’re doing as we go forward in these states,” Clinton said of Ohio and Texas, two delegate-rich states on which she has pinned the future of her candidacy.
The former first lady pledged to continue to stress her differences with Obama on issues including universal health care, and said she will step up her criticism of the Illinois senator’s lack of experience in public life.
“We’re going to emphasize more and more the experience gap,” Clinton told several hundred supporters who had paid at least $500 to attend a Boston fundraiser. “You’ll hear a lot about it the next eight days.”