FORT LAUDERDALE (Florida) • The scent of political gunpowder was in the air when Mrs Hillary Clinton delivered a biting attack at Mr Jeb Bush before a live audience, catching the Republican off guard ahead of a bitter general-election rivalry in what may be the most expensive election ever.
Mr Bush and his aides had envisioned a big, inclusive, high-minded speech about race last Friday in his home state of Florida, a chance to bring his message of colour-blind opportunity to a prestigious group of African-American leaders.
In a rare gesture of bipartisanship, he even planned to warmly quote President Barack Obama, usually the subject of his derision.
Then Mrs Clinton stomped all over those plans.
As Mr Bush, leading Republican presidential contender and former Florida governor, waited backstage at the annual convention of the National Urban League, Mrs Clinton portrayed him as a hypocrite who had set back the cause of black Americans.
Mrs Clinton, a Democratic candidate for president, latched onto Mr Bush's campaign slogan and the name of his super political action committee (super PAC) - "Right to Rise", his shorthand for a conservative agenda of self-reliance and hope - and turned it into a verbal spear. "They (Americans) can't rise if their governor makes it harder for them to get a college education," she said, a critique of Mr Bush's decision as governor to eliminate affirmative action in college admissions.
Towards the end of her speech, Mrs Clinton turned to those who, in her telling, do not live up to their own words on the subject of racial injustice, singling out Mr Bush, not by name but by implication, over and over.
The assault on her Republican rival was all the more striking because the Bush and Clinton families make a point of highlighting their friendly ties: Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush appear on last week's cover of Time magazine.
Mr Bush appeared unprepared to respond, thanking Mrs Clinton for joining him at the event but otherwise leaving her criticism unanswered in his own speech. His aides, however, could barely hide their disgust over Mrs Clinton's remarks, which they spoke of, bitterly, as uncivil and uncalled for.
The presidential elections, which is expected to be held in November next year, is set to be the dearest election in history with the super PACs reporting a total collection of at least US$245 million (S$335 million) so far this year, with nearly 60 individual donations of US$1 million or more to Mr Bush, Mrs Clinton and others, according to filings last Friday with the US Federal Election Commission.
That amount far exceeds what was raised during the same period leading up to the 2012 race and is fast approaching the US$374 million spent by super-PACs on the presidential campaign during the entire 2012 cycle, according to the Centre for Responsive Politics.
"These groups have got off to a much faster start than they have in the past," said Mr Brendan Glavin of the Campaign Finance Institute.
"What will remain to be seen is how much can they go back to these people? Will they be willing to give again?"
NEW YORK TIMES, BLOOMBERG