In Iowa, Party Rivals Sharpen Jabs at Clinton


By: Wall Street Journal

By CHRISTOPHER COOPER
November 12, 2007

DES MOINES, Iowa — As the campaign heats up for the Democratic presidential nomination, a race within a race appears to be taking shape in the effort to win over the people who will lead off the balloting with the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3.

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards are focused on unseating New York Sen. Hillary Clinton from her front-runner status. Many observers expect candidates finishing in third place or lower in the Iowa caucuses will be forced from the race.

Mrs. Clinton is surging in national polls, but in Iowa, a state that frequently determines the party’s presidential nominee, she is in a close race with Messrs. Obama and Edwards. The two men have sharpened their rhetoric and picked up the pace of their campaigning here.

Mr. Edwards said he has a much bigger beef with Mrs. Clinton than he does with Mr. Obama — though both candidates lead him in most recent Iowa polls. “The differences between Sen. Clinton and myself are much more dramatic than the differences between me and Sen. Obama,” Mr. Edwards told reporters last week.

Mrs. Clinton is fighting back with veiled criticism of their experience and resumes. “Fortunately, I have a little experience standing up and fighting for what I think is right,” she said at a dinner event hosted Saturday by the Iowa Democratic Party.

Political operatives said Mr. Edwards needs to best Mrs. Clinton here if his less-well-funded campaign is to continue after Jan. 3. It is likely even Mr. Obama, with one of the largest war-chests of any candidate, Democrat or Republican, would be in danger of foundering if Mrs. Clinton wins in Iowa. The peril for Mrs. Clinton is that in the past, nobody has fallen harder or faster than presumed front-runners.

The three Democratic front-runners are beginning to vastly overshadow the other contenders in this race, drawing more attention and bigger crowds as caucus day approaches. This dynamic was on display Saturday night at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in downtown Des Moines, a huge banquet attended by the state’s Democratic establishment and thousands of party activists, many presumed caucus-goers. This year’s event drew 9,000 attendees and the top six Democratic candidates.

Mr. Edwards began the evening’s speeches. He criticized Washington politicians, such as Mrs. Clinton, who accept campaign donations from special interests and lobbyists. “We have a responsibility to change this system,” said Mr. Edwards, who like Mr. Obama has rejected contributions from lobbyists. “I don’t believe you can bring about this change if you’re taking money from these people, these lobbyists.”

Of the two contenders, Mr. Edwards has been more pointed in his criticism of Mrs. Clinton, accusing her of inconsistencies regarding her stance in Iraq and claiming she enabled the White House to begin preparing for a third war by voting for a non-binding resolution to censure major figures in Iran’s armed forces.

Mr. Obama also used the dinner to highlight his differences with the front-runner.

“When I’m your nominee, my opponent won’t be able to say that I supported this war in Iraq, or that I gave George Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran or that I support the Bush-Cheney diplomacy of not talking to leaders we don’t like,” he said. “And he won’t be able to say that I wavered on something as fundamental as whether it’s OK for America to use torture — because it’s never OK.”

Mrs. Clinton gave a nod to the efforts of her closest rivals during her speech at Saturday’s banquet. “We’re getting a little closer to the Iowa caucuses and as time goes on, it’s going to get a little hotter out there,” she said. “I’m not interested in attacking my opponents. I’m interested in attacking problems.”

Write to Christopher Cooper at christopher.cooper@wsj.com

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