Clinton's Foes Go on the Attack

By Anne E. Kornblut and Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 31, 2007

PHILADELPHIA, Oct. 30 -- With just over two months until the first primary contest, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's Democratic rivals aggressively challenged their party's front-runner here Tuesday night, accusing her of being dishonest and of emboldening President Bush to declare war against Iran.

Former senator John Edwards (N.C.), lingering in third place in most polls, took the lead in attacking Clinton as Democrats gathered for the fourth of their six official debates. He mocked Clinton for voting to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist group, and he all but accused her of being corrupt.

Voters, Edwards said, "deserve a president of the United States that they know will tell them the truth, and won't say one thing one time and something different at a different time."

Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) -- under pressure to take sharp aim at Clinton -- criticized her directly for not releasing her correspondence as first lady. But he kept his cool demeanor, describing her tendency toward secrecy as simply "a problem."

The most telling exchange came minutes before the debate ended, when Clinton declined to answer repeated questions about whether she supports New York Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer's proposal to allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses, after earlier suggesting that she does. Edwards pounced, arguing that Clinton had offered evasiveness when Americans want honesty and consistency from their leaders. "What we've had seven years is double talk from Bush and Cheney, and I think America deserves us to be straight," he said.

Under fire, Clinton defended her positions on Social Security and Iran and denied assertions -- made most forcefully during the debate by Edwards -- that she is mirroring the Republican Party in her actions and rhetoric.

"Well, I don't think the Republicans got the message that I'm voting and sounding like them," Clinton said. "If you watched their debate last week, I seemed to be the topic of great conversation and consternation. And that's for a reason: because I have stood against George Bush and his failed policies."

The debate, moderated by NBC's Tim Russert and Brian Williams and held at Drexel University, offered by far the liveliest exchanges among the Democratic candidates so far.

After months of civility, the contenders raised their voices more frequently and addressed one another by first name. With a few exceptions, the six other candidates heaped criticism only on Clinton.

Debates on specific policies inched forward only incrementally. On Social Security, Clinton sought to address an apparent contradiction between her public posture of avoiding specifics about how to fix the program and a private conversation with an Iowa voter, overheard by an Associated Press reporter, in which she said she was open to asking wealthy Americans to pay more in payroll taxes.

Asked whether she was taking one position in public and another in private, Clinton said no. Asked to explain the remark overheard by the reporter, she said, "I do not advocate it, I do not support it." Clinton repeated her view that fiscal responsibility would begin to revive the Social Security system.

Obama pursued Clinton most pointedly over her White House papers, most of which are still locked away in her husband's presidential library in Little Rock. She said that she had approved the release of the papers, a point that national archivists dispute.

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