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Campaign Notebook

Romney jokes about Thompson delays

MILFORD, N.H. - Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said yesterday he would welcome Republican rival Fred Thompson to the race, but also took some jabs at Thompson's long delay in formally announcing his candidacy.

Thompson, the "Law & Order" television actor and former senator from Tennessee, is expected to officially enter the race this week. Instead of attending a debate in Durham tomorrow, Thompson will be in Los Angeles to appear on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."

"I think it will boost the ratings for Jay Leno's show, but I'd rather be doing well in New Hampshire," said Romney, who is leading in most polls in this early voting state.

Thompson's candidacy has been a shadow on the GOP contest.

He has equivocated about getting into the race, while his campaign organization has been in flux.

His entry comes remarkably late in a campaign cycle that began days after the 2006 midterm elections.

"Well, I guess the only comment I'd make to Fred Thompson would be: Why the hurry? Why not take a little longer to think this over?" Romney jokingly told reporters. "From my standpoint, if he wants to wait until January or February, that would be ideal."

That's when the primaries unfold in rapid succession.

Romney spent yesterday opening his fall campaign, marching in a Labor Day parade in Milford. He said voters would note who is there - and who is not.

"I think people will notice there have been a bunch of guys who have been working real hard to get to know voters across the country," Romney said.

As for Thompson's entry, Romney quipped: "I think he'll have some fun. We're going to presumably have some debates with him. We'll have had five without him." (AP)

Obama's harsher note
MANCHESTER, N.H. - Democrat Barack Obama sharpened his critique of lead rival Hillary Clinton yesterday, warning against a return to "divisive, special interest politics" that had demoralized the country even before President Bush took office.

"As bad as this administration has been, it's going to take more than just a change in parties to truly turn this country around," Obama told supporters at a Labor Day rally.

"George Bush and Dick Cheney may have turned divisive, special interest politics into an art form, but it was there before they got to Washington. If you and I don't stand up to challenge it, it will be there long after we leave."

It was the latest volley in the "change versus experience" debate that has dominated the dialogue between Clinton and her top rivals in recent weeks. On Sunday, Clinton unveiled a new campaign speech where she argued that only a president experienced in the ways of Washington could bring about real political transformation.

Without mentioning Clinton by name, Obama struck back hard at that argument.

"There are those who tout their experience working the system in Washington," Obama said. "But the problem is the system in Washington isn't working for us, and it hasn't been for a very long time."

Obama, who has spent much of the campaign answering questions of whether he is experienced enough to be president, ticked through his years as a community organizer and consensus builder in the Illinois legislature and now in the Senate.

But he also sought to frame his hope-driven message as an antidote to the cynicism of political insiders.

"A lot of people who've been in Washington a lot longer than me, they've got better connections, they go [to the] right dinner parties, they know how to talk the Washington talk," he said. "I may not have the experience Washington likes, but I believe I have the experience America needs right now."

With Clinton still riding high in most polls as the fall campaign was set to begin in earnest, both Obama and John Edwards have stepped up their claim that Clinton is too cautious and too conventional to bring real change to Washington.

"Hope and change are not just the rhetoric of a campaign for me," he said, adding that for others, politics seemed to be a game.

He also vowed to tell the truth always as president.

"You shouldn't expect anything less from your president," he said to loud cheers.

Obama had a full day of campaign appearances in New Hampshire, where polls show him trailing Clinton by a wide margin. (AP)

Clinton courts labor
SIOUX CITY, Iowa - Democrat Hillary Clinton courted labor activists with a sharply populist theme, making the argument that the party must focus on results, not rhetoric, and that she's the candidate best able to change the nation's course.

Drawing a clear distinction with her Democratic rivals, the New York senator brought her former president husband along for a Labor Day swing underscoring her experience.

"Change is just a word if you don't have the strength and experience to make it happen," Clinton said. "I bring 35 years of experience to make the changes I think we need to make in America."

She sounded her theme before more than 2,000 activists at a Labor Day picnic in Sioux City.

Clinton said she would hit the ground running, acting even before being sworn into office. The day after winning election, Clinton said, "I'm going to ask distinguished Americans of both parties, including my husband" to begin traveling the globe with the message: 'America is back.' "

The fight for the Democratic nomination has focused on which candidate is most likely to bring fundamental change to a country that many argue is off course. Rivals Barack Obama and John Edwards contend that Clinton is a creature of Washington who ultimately will bring business as usual to the White House.

In what she billed as the formal opening of her fall campaign, Clinton sought to turn that argument on its ear, saying her experience means she is best qualified to bring about change.

"We need to focus on results, not rhetoric, people, not process," said Clinton. "You have to go into the Oval Office on day one and start making change. I want to start even before I'm inaugurated."

In seeking distinction with rivals like Edwards and Obama, Clinton and her backers argue that Obama is in his first term in the Senate, and Edwards served only a single term as a senator from North Carolina before leaving office.

They see her two terms as first lady as well as two terms representing New York in the Senate as building the experience needed to push her plans through Congress.

She mixed her theme of experience with a populist message aimed at energizing union voters key to winning the Democratic nomination. (AP)

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