In final days before Iowa test, candidates come out swinging
DES MOINES - As several candidates went on television talk shows yesterday to sum up their messages to Iowa caucus voters, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois acknowledged that the criticism about his lack of experience in Washington could be weighing on the minds of some voters.
"That may have some effect, but ultimately, I'm putting my faith in the people of Iowa and the people of America that they want something better," Obama said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Polls show Obama, Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, and former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina tied for the lead in Iowa. They are closely bunched in New Hampshire, too, where voters are often influenced by Iowa's results. The Iowa caucuses will be Thursday, and New Hampshire's primaries are just five days later.
Playing the experience card, Clinton told ABC's "This Week" that from 1993-2001 she was "intimately involved in so much that went on in the White House, here at home, and around the world."
While she was one of the most influential presidential wives in history, Clinton's experience has been questioned.
She did not attend National Security Council meetings, did not receive the presidential daily briefing on terrorism and other threats, and did not have top-level security clearance.
She is married to one of the most popular figures in the Democratic Party, Bill Clinton, and his return to the White House as first spouse would break new ground.
"He will not have a formal, official role, but just as presidents rely on wives, husbands, fathers, friends of long years, he will be my close confidante and adviser, as I was with him," Clinton said, adding that attending National Security Council meetings "wouldn't be appropriate" for her husband.
Edwards said he could not imagine Bill Clinton staying out of the mix. "I think it's a complete fantasy," he said with a laugh on CBS's "Face the Nation."
Also appearing on talk shows yesterday were Republican rivals Mike Huckabee and Senator John McCain of Arizona, who both criticized former governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts.
McCain, speaking from New Hampshire, called Romney a waffler. Former Arkansas governor Huckabee, in Iowa, questioned whether Romney could be trusted with the presidency.
The latest polls suggest that Huckabee's surprise surge in Iowa might have stalled.
Huckabee said he might have been hurt by Romney ads and mailings criticizing his record as governor.
He accused Romney of running a "very desperate and, frankly, a dishonest campaign."
In the NBC interview, Huckabee, who is relying on support from religious conservatives, also said he stood by a decade-old comment in which he said, "I hope we answer the alarm clock and take this nation back for Christ."
The ordained Southern Baptist minister made the comment at a Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Salt Lake City in 1998.
"It was a speech made to a Christian gathering, and certainly that would be appropriate to be said to a gathering of Southern Baptists."
McCain and Clinton received endorsements yesterday from the Concord Monitor.
Romney said there is nothing wrong or unusual about pointing out differences on issues. "In this process, people have a real battle for success," he said during an Iowa campaign stop, "but I consider these guys friends."
His spokesman, Kevin Madden, did not sound so friendly about Huckabee and his record as governor. "It's a record that is tough to defend, so his testiness and irritability when being questioned about it is obvious," he said.
Former senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee told Fox News that Huckabee's comments "are not consistent with someone who understands the nature of the world that we live in."