Gas and Integrity Fuel Clinton-Obama Duel

Hillary Clinton hit the gas - and Barack Obama - as the two raced across North Carolina and Indiana.

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By Michael McAuliff in Merrillville, Ind. and Michael Saul in Durham, N.C.
Daily News Staff Writers

Hillary Clinton hit the gas - and Barack Obama - as the two raced across North Carolina and Indiana, trading sharp jabs over gasoline taxes and integrity before Tuesday's latest big showdown in the heated Democratic race.

The candidates stayed mostly upbeat on a marathon day with nine jet-aided stops between them, fighting frantically over the 187 delegates up for grabs in the two states - nearly half of all remaining delegates.

But they fired blistering barbs in the crucial television ad wars, where Obama has about a $4 million spending edge on Clinton.

Clinton shot first, using Obama's opposition to her gas tax holiday plan as a vehicle to smack him for doing nothing to help Americans hammered by soaring prices.

"What has happened to Barack Obama?" the Clinton spot asks. "He is attacking Hillary's plan to give you a break on gas prices because he doesn't have one."

Obama, who claims Clinton's gas plan is pandering, was quick to respond. He accused Clinton of running a wrecking-ball campaign.

"More of the same, old negative politics," his ad rips. "Her attacks do nothing but harm. ... We need honest answers. And a President we can trust."

Clinton, who stands little chance of surpassing Obama in the delegate race, is banking on a strong showing Tuesday to convince superdelegates that she'd be the stronger candidate against GOPer John McCain in November.

Clinton's camp, the Huffington Post reported, is also working to reinstate the delegates from Michigan and Florida when the party's rules committee meets May 31. The states were penalized for voting too early.

On the trail Monday, Obama slapped at Clinton's integrity during a stop at a semiconductor plant in Durham, N.C.

"The majority of people do find me trustworthy, more than they do the other candidate," he said. "And we can't solve problems if people don't think their leaders are telling them the truth."

In Merrillville, Ind., Clinton insisted her summer-long tax gift was a way to help people now, while she pursues a long-range energy plan - a plan she broadened to include an all-out attack on oil-producing countries.

"We're going to go right at OPEC," she yelled to roars from a crowd packed into a firehouse. "They can no longer be a cartel, a monopoly that get together every couple of months in some conference room in some plush place in the world."

Obama's campaign pounced on her declaration, noting she's never backed legislation to take on OPEC while she's been in the Senate.

msaul@nydailynews.com

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