HOUSTON, Texas (AFP) — An air-waves war erupted Friday as Democrat Barack Obama accused Hillary Clinton of scare tactics in a provocative presidential campaign ad implying he would be incapable of protecting US kids.
The ad started airing in Texas ahead of crunch primaries there as well as in Ohio on Tuesday, which Clinton's campaign has said the New York senator must win to stay in the White House race.
In the ad, a telephone rings insistently in the background as the camera pans over young children sleeping soundly in their beds.
"It's 3:00 am and your children are safe and asleep. But there's a phone in the White House and it's ringing," the male narrator says.
"Something's happening in the world. Your vote will decide who answers that call."
Although the ad never mentions Obama by name, the implication is clear as a business-like, bespectacled Clinton answers the phone, suggesting her rival was not up to the challenge of protecting the nation.
But Obama, on a roll after winning the last 11 nominating contests in the race to be the Democratic Party candidate in November's presidential elections, hit back, accused Clinton of using fear to whip up votes.
"We've seen these ads before. They're usually the kind that play upon people's fears and try to scare our votes," the 46-year-old senator told a rally in Texas.
"The question is, what kind of judgment will you exercise when you pick up that phone? In fact, we have had a red phone moment. It was the decision to invade Iraq. Senator Clinton gave the wrong answer," he said.
Just hours later his campaign hit back, rolling out a new ad with the same cutesy images of sleeping children, but with a different message.
"Something's happening in the world. When that call gets answered, shouldn't the president be the one, the only one, who had judgment and courage to oppose the Iraq war from the start?" the ad asks.
"In a dangerous world, it's judgment that matters," it concludes.
The air-waves war came just days before Tuesday's primaries in Texas and Ohio as well as Vermont and Rhode Island.
Obama has been chipping away at Clinton's lead in the run-up to the make-or-break primaries, with a poll Thursday giving the Illinois senator a 48 to 42 percent advantage over the former first lady in Texas.
In Ohio, the Reuters/C-Span/Houston Chronicle poll conducted by the Zogby Institute showed Clinton ahead of Obama by just 44 to 42 percent, a lead within the poll's margin of error, making the race too close to call.
Obama eclipsed Clinton yet again on Friday, burying her record fundraising with his own flood of fresh campaign cash, with The New York Times reporting he had raised 50 million dollars in February.
Clinton, 60, bidding to be the nation's first woman president, raised a record 35 million dollars during the month, aides said, but that jaw-dropping haul was set to be dwarfed by Obama although his camp has not yet released his monthly totals.
Advisors to the former first lady said the torrent of money flooding into campaign coffers left her well positioned in the upcoming battles.
"Should Senator Obama fail to score decisive victories with all of the resources and effort he is bringing to bear, the message will be clear," Clinton's campaign said in a statement.
"Democrats, the majority of whom have favored Hillary in the primary contests held to date, have their doubts about Senator Obama and are having second thoughts about him as a prospective standard-bearer."
Obama's campaign manager David Plouffe shot back: "The Clinton campaign has one task on March 4 and that is to really, seriously erode our (delegate) lead, and they are going to fail miserably on that measure."
On Friday, Obama, who is on his own quest to be the first black president, remained slightly ahead of Clinton in the delegate count with 1,384 delegates to her 1,279.
On the Republican side, John McCain is already anticipating a White House match-up with Obama, as he was poised to eliminate former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and clinch the Republican nomination on Tuesday.
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