Monday, December 24, 2007

"As Holiday Break Nears, Obama and Edwards Spar Over Outside Groups"

MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa, Dec. 23 -- In a final day of campaigning before suspending their campaigns for Christmas, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) encouraged voters here Sunday to view the holiday as a time to become "instruments of peace and change," while Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) accused former senator John Edwards (D-N.C.) of using outside groups to shape an intense three-way race.
Obama continued his attempt to undercut Edwards over the use of independent "527" groups, which are playing an increasing role in the campaign. Such outside Democratic groups are backing Edwards and Clinton and have bought sizable blocks of broadcast advertising in the early-voting states, including Iowa.

Obama cited one such group that is running ads on Edwards's behalf and is being operated, in part, by his former campaign manager and political director. By law, Edwards cannot coordinate with the group, but Obama said his rival should block it from participating in the process.

"My attitude is that if you can't get your former campaign manager and political director to do what you'd like, then it's going to be hard to get the insurance companies and drug companies to do what you want," Obama said.

Edwards aides struck back by noting that their candidate, unlike Obama, has never taken money from lobbyists or PACs.

"John Edwards is the only candidate with the courage and the backbone to urge the Democratic Party to stop taking lobbyist contributions," said Jennifer O'Malley, Edwards's Iowa state director. "If Senator Obama is serious about reform, he should join John Edwards in this challenge."

For her part, Clinton pushed through blinding snow to a sparsely attended church service in Waterloo, bringing her husband to introduce her to an African American congregation in one of the state's largest minority communities. She later visited a veterans home.

All three Democrats will resume their campaigns in Iowa on Wednesday, eight days before the first votes of the 2008 election season are cast in the state's caucuses.

Clinton is planning to restart her campaign with a new slogan, "Big Challenges, Real Solutions -- Time to Pick a President." She hopes it will convince undecided voters that she is more experienced than Obama. He is launching a "Stand for Change" tour in the final days, and aides said he will also focus on the question of electability.

Even with the caucuses on the immediate horizon, Clinton and Edwards will make at least one more stop in New Hampshire before Jan. 3, with an eye toward that state's first-in-the-nation primary on Jan. 8.

Black churches are not typically a mainstay of Iowa politics, but the Clintons sought one out on Sunday morning. Waterloo has five Democratic precincts with significant African American populations and, even though they will elect only 40 delegates, this pocket of the state was considered important enough for both Clintons to penetrate stormy weather for one final visit a few days before Christmas.

Flying in from their home in Chappaqua, N.Y., the Clintons arrived shortly after noon at Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church, with the service already begun. They were joined by former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack and his wife, Christie; former Denver mayor Wellington Webb; and Bob Nash, a Clinton administration official and current campaign official. The church was more than half-empty, with only a few dozen people in the pews.

Hailing Christmas as "the birth of the God of second chances," Bill Clinton introduced his wife as a "giver" and encouraged congregants to vote. He cited the Book of Romans, saying the Bible instructs people to "be good citizens as well as good followers of the Lord."

"For as long as I have known Hillary, she has been giving of herself to benefit others. I think we want that sort of giver to lead our country," he said.

Hillary Clinton has drawn women steadily to her events, holding female-focused appearances in New Hampshire on Saturday and referencing her gender on Sunday. "We've never had a woman president before," she told veterans.

"We need it," an elderly woman shouted from the audience.

Obama braved the storm to attend three town-hall meetings, after five events on Saturday, and also appeared on CBS's "Face the Nation."

Speaking before crowds in central and western Iowa, where at least one-third said they were undecided, Obama added to his stump speech lines intended to address concerns about his candidacy. He repeatedly emphasized that voters should not consider his race a barrier to his being elected, an issue that he has begun discussing publicly in the past week. He also explained why he is running for president now, rather than waiting for more seasoning, by invoking a Martin Luther King Jr. quote about the "fierce urgency of now."

In the past week, a late but extremely muscular effort by independent expenditure groups emerged in Iowa. The issue-oriented groups, known as 527s because of their designation in the federal tax code, are influential because they can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money. The only restrictions are that they cannot explicitly urge people to vote for or against a candidate, and they cannot coordinate their efforts with any active campaign.

Three organizations, including two labor unions, have spent more than $2.1 million over the past month in Iowa and New Hampshire to help support Clinton's candidacy. Three more groups, all backed by labor, have spent nearly $1.3 million on Edwards's behalf.

By contrast, there appears to be little independent expenditure activity in Iowa from groups backing Obama. The issue flared over the weekend as Obama criticized efforts of the Alliance for a New America, a group formed by the Service Employees International Union and run by Nick Baldick, who served this year as a top adviser to Edwards.

Last week, the group spent $769,610 to reserve television ads that help promote Edwards's candidacy. Obama aides have questioned how the group could be operating without the inside knowledge that Baldick must have soaked up from his former boss.

Baldick said Sunday that his work for the group has been thoroughly vetted by SEIU's lawyers.

"This is an issue advocacy organization with its own agenda," Baldick said. "There is nothing inappropriate about a former adviser leaving a campaign and later working with an organization that is not about any campaign but about raising issues."

The ease with which political operatives moved between campaigns and independent expenditure groups prompted several legal challenges four years ago, and some are still moving through the courts.

No comments: