INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Barack Obama likened Hillary Rodham Clinton to President Bush for threatening to "totally obliterate" Iran if it attacks Israel and called her gas-tax holiday a gimmick as he tried to fend off her challenge ahead of two pivotal Democratic primaries.
Clinton, in turn, stood by both her comment on Iran and her tax proposal as she gave chase to the front-runner in Indiana and North Carolina.
The competitors squabbled over the issues - one foreign, one domestic - from a short distance, first during separate appearances on Sunday news shows and then as they courted voters for Tuesday's primaries.
"This is the final push," Clinton told a cheering crowd of volunteer canvassers in Fort Wayne, emboldened by her Pennsylvania victory two weeks ago as well as polls that show her in a close race in Indiana and narrowing Obama's lead in North Carolina.
Obama, for his part, was hoping that wins Tuesday would stop the bleeding from a difficult campaign stretch. Maneuvering for advantage, he sought to portray Clinton as politically motivated on both Iran and her gas-tax plan.
On NBC's "Meet the Press," Obama opened a new line of criticism and seized on an answer Clinton gave when asked last month what she would do if Iran attacked Israel with nuclear weapons on her watch.
"I want the Iranians to know that if I'm the president, we will attack Iran," Clinton said April 22 in an interview with ABC. "In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them."
Obama said, "It's not the language we need right now, and I think it's language reflective of George Bush."
Suggesting that his rival was a political opportunist, Obama added: "Senator Clinton during the course of the campaign has said we shouldn't speculate about Iran, we've got to be cautious when we're running for president, she scolded me on a couple of occasions on this issue, yet a few days before an election, she's willing to use that language."
Clinton, asked on ABC's "This Week" about Obama's criticism, said she had no regrets about her comment.
"Why would I have any regrets? I'm asked a question about what I would do if Iran attacked our ally ... and, yes, we would have massive retaliation against Iran," Clinton said. "I don't think they will do that, but I sure want to make it abundantly clear to them that they would face a tremendous cost if they did such a thing."
Turning up the heat on an issue closer to home, Obama on NBC called Clinton's proposal for a gas-tax holiday this summer a "classic Washington gimmick" that wouldn't solve anything and would save only $28 for each person. He opposes the temporary suspension of the federal tax and argued that Clinton was pandering for votes.
To underscore that, Obama rolled out a new TV ad for Indiana and North Carolina that derided "Clinton gimmicks that help big oil."
"More low-road attacks from Hillary Clinton. Now she's pushing a bogus gas-tax gimmick. Experts say it'll just boost oil industry profits," the ad says. "Clinton aides admit it won't do much for you - but would help her politically."
Clinton dismissed the criticism and disputed Obama's suggestions that she and Republican candidate John McCain were the same because they both support a gas-tax holiday.
"Senator McCain has said take off the gas tax, don't pay for it, throw us further into deficit and debt. That is not what I've proposed," Clinton told ABC, adding that she wants the oil companies to pay the gas tax instead of consumers this summer.
Many economists oppose the plan and Clinton demurred when asked to name one who supports it. "I'm not going to put my lot in with economists because I know if we did it right ... it would be implemented effectively," she said.
Focusing on Indiana, Clinton and Obama nearly tripped over each other throughout the day. They stayed overnight in Indianapolis hotels one block apart. They were greeting voters within miles of each other in Fort Wayne. By evening, they planned to return to the capital city for the Indiana Democratic Party's Jefferson Jackson Dinner.
North Carolina, too, was to get some last-minute attention. Both candidates shuffled their schedules to dart back to the state on Monday, reflecting the tightening contest there
Obama is ahead in the hunt for convention delegates - 1,742.5 to 1,607.5, according to an Associated Press count Sunday - but he has faced a spate of troubles over the past month. That has Clinton sensing an opening. Still, the delegate math works in Obama's favor, and it will be difficult for Clinton to overtake him.
Nevertheless, Clinton suggested anew she had no intention of dropping out, saying on ABC, "When the process finishes in early June, people can look at all the various factors and decide who would be the strongest candidate" to go up against McCain in the fall.
Copyright 2015 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.