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John McCain speaks to Iowa constituents in Des Moines. The Arizona senator was asked by the media about the Benazir Bhutto assassination.
John McCain speaks to Iowa constituents in Des Moines. The Arizona senator was asked by the media about the Benazir Bhutto assassination. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
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"It's kind of like having a Miss America candidate say, 'I'm for world peace.' You have to have more of an idea of how you're going to get there," Diane Miller said. "I'd really like to be a precinct captain for him -- in about eight years."

The reactions of the listeners often echoed the talking points of rival campaigns and the pundits' pronouncements. For every listener who described Obama as overly idealistic, one described Clinton as too heavily packaged. One would say she sounded prepared, another would say his aura of authenticity trumped her record.

Somehow, the undecideds must choose.

Yet, as Terri Miller put it, the candidates make it difficult for the poor Iowan. Each sounds great exiting the stage to cheers and a jolt of upbeat music. A decision may even seem near -- and then another candidate comes to town.

-- Peter Slevin

INDEPENDENT GROUPS WEIGH IN

Edwards, Clinton Get Boost

Independent groups appear to be doing more heavy lifting in New Hampshire for two of the top Democratic candidates for president, with new mailers focusing on voter concerns about health care.

The first mailer landing in mailboxes this week appears as though it was sent directly by the John Edwards campaign. Edwards is pictured speaking at one of the largest New Hampshire medical centers, and the flier includes almost verbatim language from Edwards's campaign material, such as: "John Edwards has a plan to make sure every American has quality health care. His plan will take on big drug and insurance companies to get it done."

But this mailer came from the Alliance for a New America, an independent group financed by the Service Employees International Union, which has come under fire because it is headed by a former top Edwards campaign official, Nick Baldick.

The group's activity has been a big help to Edwards, who is the only top Democratic candidate who opted to take federal matching money, and so is limited to spending no more than about $800,000 on his New Hampshire campaign. That limit does not apply to outside groups campaigning on his behalf.

The second flier, paid for by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, levels a direct attack on Barack Obama's health-care plan and takes a veiled shot at the "change" theme of his campaign, saying his "band-aid solution is no change at all." The union is one of the largest independent groups that is backing Hillary Clinton and is the same organization that has a radio ad in high circulation in New Hampshire right now. That ad also attacks Obama's health-care proposal.

AFSCME reported to the Federal Election Commission on Thursday that it spent $38,905 on the mailer opposing Obama.

-- Matthew Mosk


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