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It's Never Too Early to Get Defensive

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) talks with Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno during her weekend trip to Iraq. Clinton was expected to discuss her visit to the war zone at a news conference yesterday, but something came up. Really.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) talks with Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno during her weekend trip to Iraq. Clinton was expected to discuss her visit to the war zone at a news conference yesterday, but something came up. Really. (By Sgt. Curt Cashour -- U.s. Army)

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The candidates -- announced, unannounced or simply exploring -- are taking shots at each other as if every day is Super Tuesday. In New York on Sunday, Democratic candidate John Edwards took a pop at Clinton -- from a church pulpit, no less. "If you're in Congress and you know this war is going in the wrong direction, it is no longer okay to study your options and keep your own private counsel," he said during a Martin Luther King Day ceremony. "Silence is betrayal."

The New York Daily News ruled that "a clear shot" at Clinton and Obama. The New York Post printed a retaliatory quote from Clinton adviser Howard Wolfson: "In 2004, John Edwards used to constantly brag about running a positive campaign. Today, he has unfortunately chosen to open his campaign with political attacks on Democrats who are fighting the Bush administration's Iraq policy."

This set off a whispered skirmish Tuesday between the two campaigns. The Edwards campaign denied that the barb was directed at Clinton. Clinton aides claimed that Edwards aides told reporters the line was directed at Clinton. Edwards aides denied any such thing.

Perhaps he was targeting Congressman McHugh?

Even before the Edwards shot, Clinton was in a tough spot on Iraq. Alone among the leading Democratic contenders, she has not renounced her October 2002 vote authorizing the use of force in Iraq. She has not joined the calls in her party for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, a specific timeline for a pullout, or a partition of the country. And she has been unusually diffident on the subject: The night before her Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on Bush's new Iraq policy last Friday, Clinton decamped -- for Iraq.

That moved Clinton's day of reckoning on Iraq to yesterday, when she was scheduled to face the cameras in the Senate television gallery. Then, yesterday morning, came the Clinton and Obama announcements in rapid succession.

Reporters were skeptical. "I just got word from my producers that Hillary Clinton has canceled her 2 p.m. news conference," one MSNBC anchor reported. "Don't know if that's in relation to the news we got from Barack Obama, but we already see some of the competition heating up." Clinton aides tried to tamp the speculation by circulating a blog item from the New York Times, "Clinton Campaign: Illness, Not Obama, Delayed News Conference." It reported that McHugh "took ill during a stop in Germany and stayed behind to recover."

McHugh, suffering from dehydration, reportedly stumbled in Germany on Monday but quickly recovered. By yesterday, stumbling was confined to the Clinton campaign.


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