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Losing Ground In Iowa, Clinton Assails Obama

Clinton, campaigning across Iowa on Sunday, appeared to be spoiling for a fight with her chief Democratic rival in national polls -- even at one point describing the battle as "fun."

"I have said for months that I would much rather be attacking Republicans, and attacking the problems of our country, because ultimately that's what I want to do as president. But I have been, for months, on the receiving end of rather consistent attacks. Well, now the fun part starts. We're into the last month, and we're going to start drawing the contrasts," she said.

That drew a swift rebuke from Obama. "This presidential campaign isn't about attacking people for fun, it's about solving people's problems, like ending this war and creating a universal health care system," he said in a statement. "Washington insiders might think throwing mud is fun, but the American people are looking for leadership that can unite this country around a common purpose."

Obama advisers described the strategy as foolhardy, and reminiscent of the approach perfected by former Bush White House adviser Karl Rove: going after a front-runner on his strengths and challenging his sincerity.

The intensified back-and-forth between Clinton and Obama appeared certain to aggravate the Edwards campaign, which is combating the perception of a two-person race in Iowa when polls show that he is still very much in contention.

Clinton advisers had telegraphed her new, hard-knuckled approach before she brought it to the campaign trail herself.

On a Sunday talk show, communications director Howard Wolfson criticized the Illinois senator for using a political action committee to distribute money to candidates in local contests, some in early presidential primary states. "There's a lot that voters don't know about Barack Obama," Wolfson said on CBS's "Face the Nation."

The Clinton campaign has been steadily building what it describes as a character case against Obama for several weeks, particularly over his health-care plan. Clinton has argued that he is being disingenuous when he claims his plan would achieve universal coverage.

Obama's plan would not mandate that all people buy health insurance; instead it focuses on lowering costs. Strategists said Clinton chose health care as a target area because she believes she has a large advantage on the issue among many voters.

Sunday, however, marked the first time that Clinton raised the character question so bluntly on the campaign trail. In a question-and-answer session with reporters after her first stop, she said that "you can't get a straight answer" from Obama on health care.

Clinton advisers said they make no apology for going on the offensive after months of criticism by both Obama and Edwards. "Senator Obama is a fabulous orator, but we need more than words," Wolfson said in an interview. "We don't need someone who says one thing and does another, somebody who talks a good game but doesn't have the courage of their convictions. And on issue after issue, Senator Obama says one thing and does another."

Staff writer Michael D. Shear in Washington contributed to this report.

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