This is the print version of a blog column posted on Wednesday
AUSTIN, Texas -- As the front-runner, Sen. Barack Obama took incoming Wednesday from presumptive GOP nominee Sen. John McCain, who went after Obama with some unfinished business from Tuesday's Democratic debate.
McCain, in Tyler, Texas, tackled Obama over his statement in the debate -- in response to a question by NBC's Tim Russert -- that if U.S. troops leave Iraq he would "reserve the right" to "act in a way that secures" U.S. interests if al-Qaida were establishing a base in Iraq.
In what seemed a preview of a potential general election matchup, McCain mocked Obama: "I have some news," he said. "Al-Qaida is in Iraq."
Obama, at a rally at Ohio State University, told some 7,000 people (he did not fill the basketball arena) that he had some news of his own for McCain, tossing the verbal grenade back. One of the Obama rules is to leave no disputable assertion unanswered.
"John McCain thought that he could make a clever point," said Obama, inserting the response into his stump speech as he now finds himself facing fire from McCain as well as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
"Like I wasn't reading the papers. Like I didn't know what was going on. I said, well, first of all, I do know that al-Qaida is in Iraq and that is why I said we should continue to strike al-Qaida targets. But I have some news for John McCain. And that is that there was no such thing as al-Qaida in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade Iraq," Obama said to cheers.
"So John McCain may like to say that he wants to follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell, but so far all he's done is follow George Bush into a misguided war in Iraq that has cost us thousands of lives and billions of dollars and that I intend to bring to an end so we can actually start going after al-Qaida in Afghanistan and in the hills of Pakistan, like we should have been doing in the first place. . . .
"I've got news for John McCain. He took us into a war along with George Bush that should never have been authorized and never should have been waged. They took our eye off the people who were responsible for 9/11, and that would be al-Qaida in Afghanistan, that is stronger now than at any time since 2001."
Obama stumped in Ohio and Texas in advance of the crucial March 4 votes here. The campaign officially learned what had been leaking out, that civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) was switching from Clinton to Obama; Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) also is backing Obama. Both are superdelegates.
Clinton told Judy Woodruff of PBS' "News- Hour": "Well, he [Lewis] is a dear friend and I respect him so greatly and I understand the incredible pressure that he has been under, so he is my friend today just like he was yesterday."