Tongues Sharpened for Debate

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

TARGET: HILLARY

Tongues Sharpened for Debate

If the past few days were any guide, Hillary Rodham Clinton should be prepared for a long night at tonight's Democratic debate. Having been the long-distance target for the Republicans at their recent debate in Orlando, the senator from New York can expect up-close-and-personal attention from her rivals in Philadelphia.

Both Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and former senator John Edwards (N.C.) have warmed up for the debate with fresh attacks on the Democratic front-runner. Obama challenged Clinton over the weekend for ducking questions about Social Security and for not making clear her intentions with regard to Iraq and Iran.

Edwards, in a speech in Manchester, N.H., yesterday, argued that Clinton is at the nexus of a corrupted relationship between lobbyists and politicians. "Senator Clinton's road to the middle class takes a major detour right through the deep canyon of corporate lobbyists and the hidden bidding of K Street in Washington, and history tells us that when that bus stops there, it is the middle class that loses," he said, according to his prepared text.

Edwards, who earlier challenged Clinton to stop taking campaign contributions from Washington lobbyists, said his rival has taken more money from lobbyists than any other candidate of either party.

Obama told the New York Times that Clinton is too politically polarizing to unite the country and vowed to sharpen his message to make clear his differences with her. "It is absolutely true that we have to make these distinctions clearer," he told the paper. "And I will not shy away from doing that."

But this is not the first time Obama has suggested he is ready to step up his criticisms of the Democratic front-runner, nor is it the first time Edwards has attacked her as a captive of the Washington establishment.

The issue now is whether they are looking to significantly escalate their rhetoric and whether it will begin to hurt Clinton. In the past two months, as both have attacked her sporadically, she has strengthened her position in national polls. Iowa, however, remains a real battleground and is likely to be the focus of new television ads from Clinton's rivals.

Tonight's debate will be held at Drexel University and will air nationally from 9 to 11 on MSNBC. NBC News anchor Brian Williams will moderate, with Tim Russert, the host of NBC's "Meet the Press," joining in the questioning.

-- Dan Balz


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