Monday, February 12, 2007

"For Clinton and Obama, Different Tests on Iraq"

NY Times:
KEENE, N.H., Feb. 11 — Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton was challenged on Iraq from corner to corner of New Hampshire this weekend, while Senator Barack Obama drew cheers in Iowa for his opposition to the war.

Besides giving voters a chance to probe the views of two major rivals for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, the weekend appearances gave the two campaigns a chance to road test their strategies for dealing with the central issue of Iraq in the primaries and beyond.

At nearly every stop in New Hampshire, Mrs. Clinton, the junior senator from New York, has been greeted warmly but has been met by skeptical voters asking pointedly about her 2002 vote authorizing the use of force in Iraq. On Sunday in Nashua, one person told her that her explanation “doesn’t fly,” while another asked why she did not simply say that the vote was a mistake.

In these instances and similar moments in New Hampshire, Mrs. Clinton stuck to a set of talking points that she and her advisers hope will ultimately overcome the antiwar anger that is particularly strong among Democrats likely to vote in primaries. She took full responsibility for the vote, said she would not vote for military action in Iraq again, and then pivoted quickly to frame Iraq as President Bush’s war. This answer was usually met with applause.

Yet Mrs. Clinton’s refusal to use clear, categorical phrases — “I’m sorry” or “I made a mistake” — has created an opening for Mr. Obama and another rival, former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, who has openly apologized for his identical 2002 vote.

On Sunday, at a news conference in Ames, Iowa, Mr. Obama declined to say whether Mrs. Clinton should explicitly express regret for the vote, but he phrased his answer to keep the onus on her.

“I will let her speak to her plan, and I will let her address both past decisions and how she wants to move forward,” Mr. Obama said. “I am not clear on how she would proceed at this point to wind down the war in a specific way.”

In two days of public appearances in New Hampshire, Mrs. Clinton did not mention Mr. Obama’s name or explicitly contrast her positions on the war with his, though she did say at one point that it was “very easy to go around saying, ‘End the war now.’ ”

She was never asked directly about Mr. Obama; she held no news conferences with the two dozen reporters following her, nor did voters publicly press her on Mr. Obama’s views.

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