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Clinton, Obama exchanges get nasty

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  • Clinton, Obama camps have been getting into heated exchanges lately
  • Latest verbal jabs about fundraising, foreign relations experience, health care
  • Clinton's lead has dropped in recent polls from New Hampshire and Iowa
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(CNN) -- Just a couple of weeks ago, Sen. Hillary Clinton said she wasn't interested in attacking her opponents -- she was interested in "tackling the problems of America."

The war of words between Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama has intensified in recent days.

But with her lead slipping, things have changed, and the New York senator has found herself in a full out verbal war with Sen. Barack Obama.

"In politics, you can afford to ignore your opponents until you start to feel them breathing down your neck," said CNN's senior political analyst Bill Schneider.

Clinton last week saw a 23-point lead over Obama in September fall to 14 points, according to a CNN/WMUR New Hampshire presidential primary poll. That poll came out a day after another poll in Iowa found Obama first in the state, although his lead was within the sampling error.

And as the race gets tighter, it's also getting nastier.

"I think the country is wondering why two weeks ago [Clinton] said she wasn't going to attack Democrats and nine days later she was," Robert Gibbs, communications director for the Obama campaign, told CNN on Tuesday. Watch the Clinton and Obama camps go at it »

According to the Clinton camp, "the debate has moved."

Pointing out differences in the two candidates' health care plans, Ann Lewis, senior advisor for the Clinton campaign, said, "We think these are important distinctions and think the public ought to know about them."

Those distinctions -- and many others -- have been brought up by both campaigns numerous times in recent days. The Clinton and Obama camps have started exchanging jabs over health care, fundraising and foreign relations experience -- and the punches are getting personal.

"I think that I bring unique experience -- 35 years of experience, including the eight years in the White House where I was actively involved in issues both here at home and around the world," Clinton said this week.

But Obama was quick to disagree: "If she wants to tout her experience by having visited countries, that's fine. I don't think that [former Secretary of State] Madeleine Albright would think that Hillary Clinton was the face of foreign policy during the Clinton administration," Obama said.

The latest dispute comes a week after Clinton took a deep dig at Obama's foreign experience, zeroing in on his remark that his "strongest" foreign policy experience came from living in Indonesia as a child.

The Clinton-Obama camps got into a new war of words Monday over reports that Obama's political action committee may have directed a majority of its campaign contributions to politicians in the key early nominating states.

"On the campaign trail, Senator Obama is outspoken about his desire to reform the campaign finance system so it was surprising to learn that he has been using his PAC in a manner that appears to be inconsistent with the prevailing election laws," Clinton's campaign said in a statement.

Obama's campaign then took aim at Clinton's reluctance to release financial, fundraising and White House records in full.

"The latest personal attack from Hillary Clinton is a completely false attempt to misrepresent Barack Obama's full disclosure of his campaign finances," Obama spokesman Bill Burton said in a statement, adding that Clinton is in no position to point fingers until she discloses her own White House records.

Clinton also pointed fingers at Obama's health care plan, calling it "confusing," a day after the Illinois senator said his proposal would keep costs down more than any of his rivals' plans.

"There's a big difference between Sen. Obama and me on health care. I have a health care plan that covers every single American. He does not," Clinton told reporters Sunday.

Obama was quick to swing back: "Senator Clinton's idea is that we should force everyone to buy insurance," he said in a statement released to CNN on Sunday. "She's not being straight with the American people because she refuses to tell us how much she would fine people if they couldn't afford insurance."

Clinton and Obama obviously aren't the only contenders in the Democratic race, but the other candidates are largely staying on the sidelines of this slugfest.

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards said he's paid no attention to the "sniping."

When asked last week if Clinton was warranted in criticizing Obama's foreign relations experience, Edwards said, "Can I honestly tell you ... I spend not a nanosecond listening to what each of them are saying sniping toward each other, so I have no idea what you're talking about." E-mail to a friend

All About Hillary ClintonBarack ObamaU.S. Presidential Election

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