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Hillary Clinton team: Barack Obama is a copycat

April 21, 2008 | 11:02 am

Hillary Clinton relished the drop-in appearance set up for her with Stephen Colbert last Thursday night, but her campaign's mood soured when aides learned Barack Obama would be appearing on the same show via satellite.

"I can't believe it -- he's such a copycat," fumed a person close to Clinton, telling Newsday that the candidate herself said she was surprised by Obama's Colbert Nation invasion.

Obama spokesman Bill Burton says his boss was simply taking "The Colbert Report" up on its repeated requests that he appear -- and that the producers had suggested the Thursday time slot. (Colbert's spokeswoman didn't return calls for comment.)

"I'm not surprised the Clinton campaign is attacking us for going on 'The Colbert Report' -- since their campaign is 100% negative," Burton said. "But I do have to say, this is about the lamest attack they've come up with so far."

Perhaps, but it also reflects a deeper resentment among Clinton insiders over what they believe is Obama's penchant for pilfering their ideas, the political equivalent of the popular kid rising to the top of the class by cribbing the nerdy valedictorian's notes.

"Sen. Obama has clearly followed us on an entire range of issues," says Clinton's policy chief Neera Tanden. "It raises a fundamental question: If Sen. Obama can't propose his own major policies during the campaign, how is he going to do it as president?"

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a top Clinton surrogate, said Obama is "clearly picking up a lot of her stuff, especially on economic stimulus. It's really noticeable."

To make their point, the Clinton campaign is circulating a memo to surrogates that details ...

alleged Obama policy lifts on issues such as the establishment of a national infrastructure bank, the creation of five million new "green collar" jobs and a plan to force colleges to adopt a universal financial aid form.

Clinton, who prides herself on being a policy wonk, is particularly peeved about what she believes to be Obama's borrowing of her economic stimulus and foreclosure-relief packages.

"I came up with that a year ago," she told an audience in Bethlehem, Pa., over the weekend, referring to her plan to allocate billions to states for mortgage-assistance programs.

In many cases, Clinton's camp argues, Obama simply cut and pasted Clinton proposals, then tossed in a few hundred million in funding to make him look bolder. One example cited in the memo was Clinton's proposal last October to more than double the tax credit for public college students to $3,500. A month later, Obama proposed a similar plan --- but one-upped Clinton by raising the maximum credit to $4,000.

Also in October, Clinton rolled out a proposal to set aside $1 billion to help states develop paid family leave programs. A month later, Obama rolled out a similar policy -- with an extra $500 million.

Clinton's surrogates have been hammering away on these points in blogs and in the comment sections of small newspapers in Pennsylvania and Indiana. One Clinton partisan, posting on Pennsylvania's Altoona Mirror site, accused Obama of "lies and theft of Hillary Clinton's policies, position papers, etc. and expounding on them to make them his own work/ideas."

Burton denied that Obama has ever willfully borrowed any proposal from Clinton -- and countered by contending that it's Clinton who is copying Obama on Iraq, the most crucial issue she faced as a senator.

For instance, Burton suggested that she only backed a plan pushed by Sens. Harry Reid and Russ Feingold to end the war after he publicly backed the plan.

"Who's copying who?" Burton asked.

-- Glenn Thrush

Glenn Thrush writes for the Swamp of the Chicago Tribune's Washington Bureau.