POLITICS
03/28/2008 02:45 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Obama, Clinton Duel Over Florida Tactics Despite Dual Guilt

In the hours preceding the Democratic debate on Tuesday evening, the campaigns of Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton fired off dueling memos accusing each other of violating pledges to not campaign in Florida.

Months earlier, each candidate in the Democratic presidential field had agreed to avoid campaigning (though not fundraising) in states that defied Democratic Party rules by holding an early primary or caucus.

Obama's camp initiated the fracas, suggesting that Clinton was potentially violating the tenet of the pact by "planning to campaign in the state - inquiring about large venues and increased organizing activity ahead of the Florida primary."

The Clinton campaign denied the accusation, saying that it had planned only "two small scheduled fundraisers." Clinton's camp charged Obama with sitting idly by while his "supporters and allies in Michigan" -- another state in which campaigning was prohibited -- "ran radio ads and other campaign activities urging people to vote for 'uncommitted'" in Tuesday's primary.

The back-and-forth underscored just how hard each campaign is pining for even the slightest political edge. It also illustrated just how twisted and clouded campaign rhetoric has become as the race has tightened. Even in the immediate aftermath of the no-campaigning pledges, both candidates were fudging the lines and underlying meaning of the agreement.

Less than a day after the campaigns agreed not to campaign in Florida, Obama hosted an impromptu press conference following a fundraiser in Florida's Hyde Park. Under the Democratic Party rules, "holding news conferences" violated the pledge, a stipulation which Obama said he did not know.

"I was just doing you guys a favor," the Illinois Democrat declared. "If that's the case, then we won't do it again."

Days later, Clinton was in Florida attending five separate fundraising events. The candidates, political observers noted were turning rallies into "grass-roots fundraisers," in which a larger number of participants were giving minimal donations to attend.

Senator John Edwards too has planned fundraisers in the Sunshine State. And like his competition for the White House nomination, his campaign insists that no campaigning took place.

Taken together, the activities of the candidates in Florida has repeatedly aroused the anger of officials in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, states that pushed the Democratic Party to adopt the pledge.

"It's not immoral. It's not improper, per se," Dave Nagle, the former Iowa Democratic chairman, told the Sioux City Journal in Iowa. "But it does raise the suspicion of how sincere they were when they said they wouldn't campaign in those states."

And the Tuesday memos between the frontrunner campaigns were enough to cause at least one Florida Democratic official to describe the whole exchange as redundant and silly.

The prohibition against campaigning, said the source who spoke on condition of anonymity, is based on the rules and regulations of the Democratic National Committee. "But the DNC Rules do not exempt fundraising. It's ridiculous. The Obama campaign memo is the definition of 'grasping at straws.' The reality is that both of them broke the pledge, and Obama did it first. Obama has had more large, low-dollar events than Hillary though the Clinton campaign did do one with Bill."