By Marcella Bombardieri, Globe Staff
STORY CITY, Iowa -- Even as her prospects teeter for winning the crucial Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, Hillary Clinton has renewed her focus on a foe who is not in the race: President Bush.
Since returning to the campaign trail after a two-day Christmas respite, Clinton has unveiled a whole new vocabulary of attacks on the Bush administration, debuting phrases such as "the two oilmen in the White House," and the "imaginary credit card in the sky" that she says Bush has relied on to fund his tax cuts for the wealthy and to help pay for the war in Iraq.
"They've turned that wonderful phrase by Abraham Lincoln on its head: They have a government of the few, by the few, and for the few," she said Thursday evening in western Iowa.
Today, she leveled withering criticism on Bush for giving Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf a "blank check." And her campaign released a new TV ad in Iowa declaring that Bush and Wall Street "did nothing" as the housing crisis mushroomed in the summer and fall.
Criticizing Bush has long been a centerpiece of her campaign, but the topic receded as she began suffering in the polls and faced criticism that she was running a general election campaign, as if she had already won the nomination. She turned more of her attention to drawing contrasts with her leading rival, Barack Obama.
But this week, Bush has once again become the central foil in her campaign narrative. While the topic doesn’t help her draw a distinction with her competitors, it is dear to the hearts of many Democrats, and even disaffected Republicans, who appear to make up notable proportions of her audiences in some parts of Iowa.
"I'm a registered Republican, but I'm very discouraged with the Bush administration," said Kay Resel, a community college instructor who is volunteering as precinct captain for the Clinton campaign. After seeing Clinton speak in rural Lawton Thursday, she said many of her neighbors feel similarly. "I do have a sense that people are leaning more toward Democratic candidates."