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Clinton, Obama go on attack ahead of crucial vote

With two days to go before a crucial U.S. presidential vote, Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton sharpened their attacks on Sunday, with Clinton pouncing on Obama for saying Republican John McCain would be better for the country than George W. Bush.

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton smiles during a rally at Liberty High School in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, April 20, 2008. With two days to go before a crucial U.S. presidential vote, Democrats Barack Obama and Clinton sharpened their attacks on Sunday. (REUTERS/Tim Shaffer)

Obama told a rally in Reading, Pennsylvania McCain would be an improvement over Bush, a comment that seemed to undercut the message he often pushes that electing McCain would amount to giving the current Republican president a third term.

"You have a real choice in this election -- you know, either Democrat would be better than John McCain, and all three of us would be better than George Bush," Obama said.

Clinton, vying with Obama for the Democratic nomination and the right to run against presumptive Republican nominee McCain in the November election, criticized Obama's comments.

"We need a nominee who will take on John McCain, not cheer on John McCain," she said at a rally in Johnstown.

The two candidates sparred ahead of Tuesday's Pennsylvania primary, which has become a major test in the race for the party's nomination.

Clinton, a New York senator who needs a win in the state to keep her presidential ambitions alive, leads in polls but Obama, an Illinois senator and the national front-runner, has cut into her one-time double-digit lead in recent weeks.

At a later event in Scranton, Obama appeared to backtrack on his suggestion that McCain would be better than Bush, once again reiterating his view that the Arizona senator was "running for George Bush's third term."

"We can't afford four more years of George Bush policies under the guise of John McCain," Obama said.

He also said Clinton's campaign tactics amounted to "game-playing" and said she would not represent enough of a change from the Bush administration.

'CHEAP POLITICAL POINTS'

"Trying to score cheap political points may make good headlines and good television but it doesn't make for good government," Obama said.

"If we're really going to solve big problems then we can't just settle for a little bit better. We need something fundamentally different," he added.

Clinton said it was Obama who had gone negative since their Philadelphia debate last week.

"It's no wonder that my opponent has been so negative these last few days of the campaign because I think you saw ... a big difference between us," she said at a rally in Bethlehem.

"While my opponent says one thing, his campaign, he does another. You can count on me to tell you what I will do," she said in Johnstown.

Clinton, who with her husband former President Bill Clinton has been the subject of many conservative investigations since the couple first entered the White House in 1993, was endorsed on Sunday by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review whose publisher, Richard Mellon Scaife, funded many of those probes.

"Clinton's decision to sit down with the Trib (editorial board) was courageous, given our long-standing criticism of her," the paper said. "Political courage is essential in a president. Clinton has demonstrated it. Obama has not."

Obama picked up an endorsement, too, from the Financial Times. "After Tuesday's vote, the Democrats should move quickly to affirm Mr. Obama's nomination," it said. "He is, in fact, the better candidate."

Ahead of Tuesday's Pennsylvania vote, most analysts believed Clinton would win but the size of the victory has become the focus of both campaigns.

McCain this week was heading off on a multistate tour of areas hard hit by poverty. Before leaving, he addressed the issue of his temper, which was the subject of a front-page Washington Post story on Sunday.

He said on ABC's "This Week" examples given in the story were decades old, "totally untrue or grossly exaggerated."

"I am very happy to be a passionate man," he said. "I love this country. I love what we stand for and believe in, and many times I deal passionately when I find things that are not in the best interests of the American people."

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