WASHINGTON – For months the Democratic presidential contest was about change versus experience. Now it's change versus change.
Seeking to secure a theme from her presidential rivals, Hillary Rodham Clinton will begin airing an ad in Iowa and New Hampshire this week that casts her as the Democratic candidate best suited to bring about a new direction for the country.
Not to be outdone, Sen. Barack Obama has a new ad in Iowa portraying himself as a reformer who has taken on "the powers in Washington."
Clinton's ad is her second in Iowa and her first in New Hampshire. They are scheduled to run statewide.
The New York senator and former first lady enters the post-Labor Day stretch of the campaign eager to confront Obama and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina -- her two closest opponents -- on turf they have tried to carve out for themselves.
Clinton's new message, as stated in the ad: "If we have the will, she has the strength. If we have the conviction, she has the experience. If we're ready for change, she's ready to lead."
Her ad begins with an announcer stating: "We will change things in this country. Because we want it. Because we have one candidate who spent her life fighting for it. Standing up for our families, our children, our veterans. We will end this war. We will give health coverage to everyone. We will be energy independent."
Obama's ad cites ethics legislation he helped pass while in the Illinois legislature and a lobbying disclosure measure he sponsored in the Senate. "It wasn't to score points with the powers in Washington," an announcer in the ad states. "It was because Barack Obama believes government should work for people."
It's not just political themes that Clinton is trying to snatch away. Both Obama and Clinton titled their new ads "Change." And the musical background in Clinton's ad is the same uplifting brass and percussion fanfare Edwards used in an ad he aired in New Hampshire in June.
"How can she change Washington if they can't even change the music?" Edwards spokesman Eric Schultz said.
Polls show that the public gives Clinton a significant lead over her rivals on experience -- an image built on her active policy role as first lady and more than six years in the Senate. But polls also show that voters appear to value a new direction and new ideas more than experience alone.
In a CNN-Opinion Research Corp. poll last month, 40 percent of respondent said Clinton was the candidate most likely to bring about change; 27 percent said the same about Obama and 15 percent described Edwards that way.
But Obama and Edwards have been aggressively promoting themselves as Washington outsiders more capable of changing Washington's direction. The comparison to Clinton is often implicit, but clear. In a new stump speech, Edwards has been railing about "the system in Washington," calling it "rigged by greedy powers."
In a memo promoting their new ad, the Clinton campaign states: "By touting Hillary's experiences as a change agent, the Clinton campaign is making clear that to make change happen, you need the kind of strength and experience Hillary has accrued during her more than 35 years of advocacy."
During an appearance on NBC's "Today" show Wednesday, former President Clinton also made the case that his wife is best able to take the country in a new direction.
"She has proved an astonishing ability to work in the Senate and get things done," he said. "And keep in mind, that's important because we can't pass health care reform, we can't pass energy reform -- which I think is the key to creating jobs -- unless we get some Republican votes. We have to have 60 votes for anything but the budget to pass in the Senate. So, I think that experience is the key to change."