WASHINGTON -- Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton accused Republicans yesterday of ''playing the fear card" of terrorism to win elections and said Democrats cannot keep quiet if they want to win in November.
The New York Democrat, facing reelection this year and considered a potential White House candidate in 2008, said Republicans won the past two elections on the issue of national security and ''they're doing it to us again."
She said a speech by presidential adviser Karl Rove two weeks ago showed the GOP election message is: ''All we've got is fear and we're going to keep playing the fear card."
In that speech, Rove suggested Republicans can prevail in 2006 by showing Democrats had undermined terrorism-fighting efforts by questioning President Bush's authority to allow wiretapping without getting court approval first.
Clinton said at a convention of United Auto Workers that Democrats should not be afraid to question Bush's handling of the war.
''I take a back seat to nobody when it comes to fighting terrorism and standing up for national homeland security," she said.
Referring to fugitive Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, Clinton said, ''You cannot explain to me why we have not captured or killed the tallest man in Afghanistan."
She added, ''Since when has it been part of American patriotism to keep our mouths shut?"
White House spokesman Ken Lisaius responded: ''It sounds like from reports that the political season is certainly starting early for some."
Clinton also said the Bush administration was allowing US manufacturing to wither away and that the only way for workers to protect those jobs was by electing Democrats.
She was cheered by the auto workers, a few of whom shouted, ''Hillary for president."
The bulk of her 30-minute speech focused on economic issues and the troubled US auto industry, which is losing market share to foreign rivals and bracing for tens of thousands of layoffs.