Chris Cillizza (WaPo's The Fix), with video (01:49):
INDIANOLA, Iowa -- Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) directly confronted the idea -- pushed by former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) -- that he is "too nice" to bring about change in Washington, dismissing what he called "hot air" and "rhetoric.""The argument goes that the only way to bring about change is to be angry," said Obama at an event in a church hall here tonight. He quickly added: "I don't need lectures about how to bring about change because I have been doing it all my life."
Less than twelve hours earlier at a rally in Boone, Iowa, Edwards called the idea of sitting down to negotiate with special interests to solve the nation's problems a "complete fantasy", adding: "You can't nice these people to death." [Watch the Video]
Neither man mentioned the other by name when delivering the rhetorical jabs, although it was crystal clear to whom they were referring.
The back and forth between the two men is simply the latest volley in an increasingly nasty battle for the segment of undecided voters who have ruled out Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) as an option.
Obama's strategists long believed that Edwards would fade as the caucuses drew closer, ceding the anti-Clinton vote to the Illinois Senator. That has not happened; in fact, just the reverse is true -- Edwards appears to be gaining strength in recent Iowa polls. (Take a look at the slew of Iowa polls out in the last few days; Edwards is tied for the lead in two.)
Edwards' continued strength has forced the Obama campaign to fight with the former North Carolina Senator over how each will bring about change.
At the heart of the dispute between the two candidates is what kind of approach is the right one to make change real. Edwards casts himself as a skilled, effective and willing fighter for the middle class; he told a story earlier in the day how his father told him as a boy to never start a fight but if one started to "never walk away."
Obama, on the other hand, has a far more conciliatory approach -- pointing to his years of bringing people together to create change both inside (and, more importantly, outside) the political process. "There's no shortage of anger in Washington," said Obama. "We don't need more heat, we need more light."
The philosophical differences between the two men are clear and palpable. Which approach will win over voters in Iowa?
We've long written that Edwards' anger (strong conviction, his campaign calls it) is a dangerous game. Voters tend not to like their presidents angry, preferring candidates who appear above-the-fray and always looking at the big picture. That conventional wisdom would suggest that it is Obama's change argument that will prove more compelling to undecided caucus goers.
And yet, the anger and resentment within the Democratic base -- caused and fomented by the Bush Administration -- is at historic highs. Progressive voters, are quite frankly, mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. One of Edwards' biggest applause lines of the day was a scathing indictment against Bush's record on science; "George Bush is the most anti-science president in American history," said Edwards to roars from the assembled crowd.
The question is whether that anger aimed at the Bush Administration has fundamentally altered the thinking of members of the Democratic base. Do they want someone who offers a raised fist or someone who offers a handshake? The answer will be clearer by the end of Thursday night.
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