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Iowa Trip to Mark New Intensity for Obama Campaign

Barack Obama accepts an honorary law degree before speaking at Howard University. A new poll shows him leading the field in Iowa. (By Michel Du Cille -- The Washington Post)

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By Dan Balz and Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, September 30, 2007

On Tuesday, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois will embark on a four-day campaign swing through Iowa, starting off with events that will mark the fifth anniversary of a speech he gave opposing the war at a rally in Chicago. His advisers have labeled it the "Judgment and Experience Tour," and Obama's success in persuading voters he has both may hold the key to his presidential aspirations.

The tour signals the intensification of Obama's bid for the Democratic presidential nomination and a commitment to spend more time in key early states such as Iowa and New Hampshire and fewer days in the Senate, where he will miss virtually all votes next week. And it will also mark increased engagement with his main rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

Obama's effort comes as Clinton has solidified her position atop the field of Democratic candidates. A race that once was seen largely through the prism of Obama vs. Clinton has evolved into a contest in which Obama finds himself jockeying with former senator John Edwards of North Carolina to be seen as the clear alternative to Clinton.

National polls suggest that Obama has gained no significant ground on Clinton since the race began, and a new survey in New Hampshire showed the gap between the two widening, giving rise to concern even among Obama's supporters that he has not yet found his groove as a candidate.

At the same time, third-quarter fundraising reports, which will be released in the next few days, are expected to show that the novice candidate and first-term senator has raised $75 million or more in his nine months of campaigning. On Thursday, Obama's aides said, the candidate drew more than 20,000 people to a rally in New York's Washington Square Park. And a poll of Iowa Democrats released by Newsweek yesterday showed Obama leading the Democratic field among people likely to attend the caucuses.

Obama advisers remain confident, saying they are laying the groundwork for strong finishes in the early states that will propel Obama to victory.

"Our campaign was never geared and the plan was never written to win the nomination in September and October," said Robert Gibbs, Obama's communications director. "It's planned and written to win this in January and February when people vote."

Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, said that "there is this fascination in the political community and Washington to treat every day like Election Day."

"It's our view that the election process begins in January," Axelrod said. "I don't think what counts is what you produce in a national poll or transient polls along the way. It's whether you are building a foundation that will produce what you need next year."

Obama has begun to sharpen his criticism of Clinton, something many supporters have been urging. At last week's debate at Dartmouth College, he criticized "Hillary" by name for using a task force that had closed meetings during her health-care reform effort in the 1990s as first lady. In New York the next day, he poked fun at Clinton for not answering a question in the debate about whether the Illinois native would cheer for the Yankees or the Cubs if they both made the World Series, then turned serious in criticizing Clinton for ducking a question about what she would do to reform Social Security.

But Axelrod emphasized that there will be no all-out assault on the New York senator.

"I know there's a tremendous blood lust out there in the political community who want us to be in a steel-cage match with her," he said. "Barack Obama didn't get in this race to tear Hillary Clinton down or anybody else down. He got into the race to lift the country up. No doubt we have differences, and he will draw those differences. But he's going to resist the thirst for gratuitous combat, because that's part of his critique of the political process."


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