HANOVER, N.H. – Presidential hopeful Barack Obama was warned by a friendly voter Monday to avoid public spats with his Democratic rivals — but remarks he made later could add fuel to the criticism against him.
Maggie North of Claremont told Obama he risks becoming part of the usual political scene if he keeps being drawn into well-publicized disputes with rivals. He and chief rival Hillary Rodham Clinton have jabbed at each other over foreign policy, the war on terrorism and the use of nuclear weapons.
"You can be it," North said at a small gathering at a Hanover restaurant Monday morning that drew eight people. "But you've got to stop — excuse me for being blunt — you've got to stop getting involved in the way people are fighting each other, chewing you up a little more."
"That's what you do when you run for president," Obama responded, getting a laugh.
But during a later appearance before about 800 people in Nashua, Obama made a comment likely to further the spats he was warned about.
Asked whether he would move U.S. troops out of Iraq to better fight terrorism elsewhere, he brought up Afghanistan and said, "We've got to get the job done there and that requires us to have enough troops so that we're not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous pressure over there."
Earlier this month, Obama drew criticism when he said he would send troops into Pakistan to hunt down terrorists even without local permission, if warranted.
North, who is considering an Obama endorsement and backed Howard Dean in 2004, praised Obama as someone fresh, but she said she worried that he was hurting himself.
Obama explained infighting among the candidates is part of the process.
"Some of that's OK, it thickens your skin. ... Putting you through the paces like that is part of the hazing that's required for the job," he said.
A Republican National Committee spokeswoman said Obama's characterization of the presidential campaign shows he's unfit to lead.
"Unfortunately for Barack Obama, this campaign is not a fraternity hazing ritual, and Americans are not going to elect a rookie politician who has ditched his 'politics of hope' mantra and gone on the attack now that he's dropping in the polls," Amber Wilkerson said.
Obama also repeated his criticism of lobbyists, calling them the enemy and saying their donations are corrupt.
"If they're spending a billion dollars on lobbying over 10 years — they're averaging $100 million a year — that carries weight in Washington. The congressmen will deny it, but they're not spending it just to provide good information," he said.
While Obama doesn't accept money directly from federal lobbyists, he is not above benefiting from the broader lobbying community. He accepts money from firms that have lobbying operations and has tapped the networks of lobbyists' friends and co-workers. Obama, a former state senator from Illinois, has long accepted money from state lobbyists. One of them, Concord, N.H., lobbyist Jim Demers, attended an Obama event in Keene earlier Monday and is a top adviser to the campaign.
At that 350-person rally, Obama returned to those themes.
"Don't let people tell you we can't solve our problems. Cynicism is our enemy. Don't let them convince you that it's too far gone, that Washington is too corrupt," Obama said to cheers. "Listen, there are problems in Washington but there are not problems we can't fix as citizens of the United States."
During the twilight rally in a Nashua park, Obama said the answer to health care — like many policies — is to reduce lobbyists' power.
"What's missing is not the plan, it's the sense of urgency and the willingness to take on special interests," Obama said. "It's not just enough to change political parties. For us to make those big changes, we're going to need all of you to be engaged."