In Iowa, Clinton Intensifies Attacks

By Anne E. Kornblut and Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, November 26, 2007

PERRY, Iowa, Nov. 25 -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), her status as the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in jeopardy, stepped up attacks on her closest rival with fewer than six weeks until the first nominating contest.

Just weeks ago, Clinton chastised her opponents for "mudslinging." But she unapologetically pursued her main challenger, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), over the weekend, standing by her decision to mock Obama's foreign policy experience and attacking his health-care plan -- part of what her advisers described as a new phase of her campaign that will present voters with a "real choice."

"I think that there are differences among us on issues and on qualifications and on experience -- and voters are going to begin drawing those judgments," Clinton said in response to a question Sunday about whether Democrats should attack one other.

Clinton proceeded to hammer Obama over his health-care proposal, saying that only her approach would ensure coverage for all Americans, and mocking him for what she called a "kind of confusing" approach to health care.

Obama and Clinton are locked in a tight race in Iowa with former senator John Edwards (N.C.), and each is putting renewed focus on electability -- a factor that helped turn the state for Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) in the 2004 Democratic contest. Although most Democrats at the national level view Clinton as the most viable nominee, Iowans are more receptive to viewing Obama and Edwards that way. All of the campaigns concede electability is a top concern among caucusgoers. Health plans and war policy aside, they want to back a winner.

Strategists for Obama said over the weekend that they see an opening for their candidate on the question of electability, and campaign manager David Plouffe also predicted a "relentlessly negative" barrage from the Clinton campaign in the days ahead.

Central to the new Clinton push will be the argument that only she can beat the eventual Republican nominee, a claim Obama is also seeking to make to voters here.

Advisers said her message will be: "You can't have change if you don't win." Her rivals, meanwhile, are moving aggressively to capitalize on Clinton's weaknesses in Iowa -- and, they hope, block her path to the nomination.

Obama's campaign continues to voice increasing optimism about its chances in Iowa, seeing growth opportunities for him even among what was expected to be Clinton's core constituency. On Sunday morning in Des Moines, Obama held a health-care forum in which five of the six panelists were women, the heart of the Clinton voter base.

Senior strategist Steve Hildebrand, who is organizing Iowa for Obama, said Clinton appeared to be boxed in with caucusgoers, still dominant with retirement-age and lower-income Democrats, but with few areas to advance.

Most glaring, Hildebrand said, was Clinton's 26 percent standing in last week's Washington Post-ABC News poll, particularly because she is so well-known. "She is barely getting one-fourth of the Democratic vote, and that number says more about her candidacy than any other number," Hildebrand said.

Clinton advisers acknowledge that, in a state that has never elected a woman to statewide office or sent a woman to Congress, she has challenges, and promised that she will not leave them unaddressed.

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