What happened
Sen. Barack Obama stepped up his criticism of Sen. Hillary Clinton on the presidential campaign trail this week, hoping to chip away at her growing lead in the polls. Obama focused on Clinton’s refusal to set a deadline for withdrawing from Iraq, and her vote to give Bush authority to go to war. “She was too willing to give the president a blank check,” Obama said.

What the commentators said
It’s crunch time for Obama, said David Ignatius in The Washington Post (free registration). He’s a “charismatic” guy, but up to now he has been “Mr. Cool” on the campaign trail, “holding himself back." He has to shift into “higher gear” and “ignite voters” fast. Clinton is pulling away from the pack fast, and even Democrats who like Obama “worry that the nomination may soon be out of his reach.”

“Obama can still win,” said Steven Stark in the Boston Phoenix. But he needs to correct his campaign’s basic “strategic blunder.” Obama talks too much about his personal story, “as if the election were about him, not the country.” If Obama wants to jumpstart his “stalled” campaign, he needs to start telling the American people what he will do for them, not why he’s the man to do it.

And he needs to be “a better politician,” said Kathleen Parker in The Orlando Sentinel. The flap over his refusal to wear an American flag lapel pin is a case in point. Obama recently told a reporter he stopped wearing a flag pin after 9/11 because he felt others were wearing them as a substitute for “true patriotism.” One could argue he made a legitimate point, but it’s impossible to defend the remark politically. “When campaigning for president, it's probably best not to insult all those nice” voters “who have flagpoles in their front yards and flag pins in their lapels.”