Obama Uses The "R" Word, Clinton Doesn't

04/04/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The focus of the presidential campaign on Thursday, and much of this past week, was on the economy, with each Democratic candidate offering a set of proposals, claiming prior ownership to other's positions, and even going after Sen. John McCain.

And while both Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton hit many of the same notes -- the need for greater housing security, the anger towards special interests, the "I feel your pain" vibes -- there were minor distinctions. One of those was to characterize the current crisis.

Speaking in downtown Manhattan on Thursday, Obama used, as NBC's Domenico Montanaro pointed out, "the 'R' word."

"As most experts know, our economy is in a recession," said the Illinois Democrat.

It was, despite a preponderance of evidence of a tumbling economy, a debatable use of the term, and one that the Clinton campaign declined to copy.

Asked on a conference call later that day whether the New York Democrat also believed the economy was in a recession, aides to Clinton said they would "leave the technical definitions of the recession to the experts."

The New York Senator is "focused on is how the economy is impacting typical families," her economic advisor Brian Deese said. And, he added, "from the experts she has consulted with it is clear that there have been some regions of the country which are in a recessionary environment, and she is concerned as she articulated... that we could be sliding into a painful and deep recession if we don't take actions to address the housing crisis."

On a technical level, the definition of a recession is two consecutive quarters of negative growth. Such a scenario has not presented itself yet. But the vast majority of economists do agree that the U.S. is currently in the midst of a sharp slowdown in economic activity.

On Thursday, Clinton addressed this issue in a speech in Raleigh, North Carolina. Much of it was focused on job creation and ending "the giveaways to corporate special interests."

Later in the day, the Clinton camp accused Obama of lacking specifics in his approach.

"Presidents have to do more than announce principles," said Clinton campaign policy director Neera Tanden, in a memo. "They have to solve problems. At a time of crisis in our financial markets, Sen. Obama announced a series of broad, vague principles, while offering no new concrete solutions to provide Americans with greater confidence in the market or keep them in their homes."

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