Chris Dodd chided his Democratic rivals today for the dust-up over this week's debate -- John Edwards and Barack Obama for touting their getting tough on Hillary Clinton, and Clinton for complaining about piling on in the all boys' club of presidential politics.
Dodd told Globe editors that while it's fine to aggressively point out differences on legitimate issues, it was a "catastrophic mistake" for Edwards and Obama to telegraph that they would go after Clinton to show how tough they could be.
Dodd also dismissed the Clinton camp's complaints that he and others ganged up on her, saying she shouldn't be in the race if she can't stand up to criticism. "If you're going to be president, get ready," he said.
Obama made a similar point on the "Today" show: "I am assuming and I hope that Senator Clinton wants to be treated like everybody else. And I think that's why she is running for president. You know, when we had a debate back in Iowa a while back, we spent, I think, the first 15 minutes of the debate hitting me on various foreign policy issues. And I didn't come out and say, 'Look, I'm being hit on because I look different from the rest of the folks on the stage.' I assumed it was because there were real policy differences there."
"I think that has to be the attitude all of us take. We're not running for the president of the city council," he added. "We're running for the presidency of the United States of America."
"I don't think people doubt that Senator Clinton is tough. She's used to playing in national politics. And in fact, that is one of the things that she has suggested is why she should be elected is because she has been playing in this rough and tumble stage. So it doesn't make sense for her, after having run that way for eight months, the first time that people start challenging her point of view that suddenly she backs off and says, 'Don't pick on me.' I think that is not obviously how we would expect her to operate if she were president."
Edwards, meanwhile, released a video featuring clips of what he calls double-talk by Clinton during Tuesday night's debate, as did the Republican National Committee.
Clinton, herself, said she can take attacks from her rivals.
"I don't think they're piling on because I'm a woman. I think they're piling on because I'm winning," Clinton told reporters after filing paperwork today to appear on the New Hampshire primary ballot.
"I anticipate it's going to get even hotter, and if you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen. I'm very much at home in the kitchen," she said.
Clinton's campaign today sent reporters a polling firm's analysis that said the debate was "not Hillary Clinton's finest moment of the campaign season," but said that tracking polls did not show an immediate negative impact.
Clinton's alleged dissembling on some questions has become an issue. While Dodd prompted the most stark example by disagreeing with her on whether New York state should issue driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, his position on immigration is far more nuanced than a 30-second answer during the debate might have suggested.
Dodd told the Globe editors that while he opposes giving driver's licenses because they are a "privilege," he has no problem giving healthcare and education to illegal immigrants because they are more "rights."
Dodd also said Democrats have to be reasonable and put limits on the services they offer illegal immigrants because otherwise Republicans will use immigration as a wedge issue. "It is an explosive issue," he said. "It's getting ugly."
And if anger over illegal immigrants builds, that will prevent comprehensive reform that the country needs, Dodd said. He favors the reform package, which failed earlier this year, that would have offered a path to citizenship for the 12 million illegal immigrants already in the country if they paid fines and back taxes and met other requirements. Critics call that amnesty, and helped kill the bill.
"This is going to be a hard issue," he said.