TIME's Jay Newton-Small interviewed Barack Obama on his campaign plane on Wednesday and spoke about Hillary Clinton, double-standards, talking tough and going negative.
TIME: You said you'd like a better examination of Hillary Clinton's foreign policy experience. What exactly will you criticize in her foreign policy experience?
OBAMA: Here's what's happened in this race. She has been able to assert throughout this campaign that she has 35 years of experience, that makes her more qualified. She hasn't won the debate on policy in this race. What she did, especially over the last two weeks, is essentially question my capacity. And so, if somehow she can discount my 20 years of experience working as a civil rights attorney or as a community organizer or as a state senator or as a United States Senator, and suggest that that career can be summed up in one speech, then I'm going to be interested in finding out what exactly she thinks makes her particularly well-prepared, for example, on foreign policy. When her advisors were on the phone after they had released this 3 a.m. phone call advertisement, somebody asked, well when has she dealt with a crisis? There was a thundering silence. And, in fact, when they finally scrambled to find out, to find some answer, what they came up with was, ironically enough, a speech. Her speech in China about women, which she constantly touts as an example of her foreign policy experience. So, let's ask a very simple question. Has she negotiated any treaties? When she traveled these 80 countries, was she involved in policymaking? If so, what? And my suspicion is that you're not going to get a bunch of particularly impressive answers.
Are you saying you're more qualified than she is?
What I'm saying is that she has been able to assert experience that isn't backed up by a whole host of facts other than that she's been there.
You've also mentioned ethics, and there have obviously been a lot of questions over the years that the Clinton legacy is long and detailed.
It is. And that hasn't been surfaced during this election. It has been our choice not to bring it up because my attitude has been that this should be a campaign about our policy positions and where we want to take the country but if she starts asserting that somehow I'm not ready and that one of the reasons that the Democrats or superdelegates should not vote for me is because we don't know enough about him, or there may be things in his past or his character that make him vulnerable to Republican attack, then I think it's certainly fair to compare our track records on issues like ethics to see whether or not I am more vulnerable to these kinds of attacks.
So she is doing that and you are going to compare, you're going to bring up her record now and say...
I think it's fair if she thinks that [her record] is one of the reasons that she should be a nominee, then I think it shouldn't have to be [my campaign to bring up the issue]. Hopefully the press will do it's job and say let's take a look. Obama has this one issue related to Tony Rezko which everybody's been focused on, although there have been no allegations of any wrongdoing whatsoever. And this is something she keeps on pumping everyday to raise questions about my [record]. Well, I'll take that one episode in my long career and we can tally that up next to some of questions that she apparently thinks are relevant.
Over the last three days, Hillary Clinton has obviously thrown a lot at you. The kitchen sink, as you say, NAFTA, [controversial real estate developer Antoin] Rezko, 3 a.m. call. What hurt the most?
You know, the truth is, in terms of what happened, in the last week, we were down 20 in all these states, and so we were working on closing the gap, but it's not clear to me that even if things were perfect that we could've entirely closed that gap. Partly because she's a very vigorous campaigner, and they had the resources to be able to get out there and hold that lead. And part of it was, there's a natural cycle on the coverage of these campaigns. I actually think that what probably had the most impact this past week was the press buying into this notion that they have been too tough on her or too soft on me. I actually think that had the biggest impact. She complained to the referees and the referees gave her some calls.
That sort of gets to my next point. You said it's the natural cycle of these things, do you think you've lost the momentum at this point? Are you still the frontrunner?
I never thought I was the frontrunner. We're running against the most dominant and entrenched, Democratic, established candidate in recent history. It's hard to beat.