Published November 07, 2007
AMANA, Iowa – With less than two months until the Iowa caucuses, Hillary Clinton is charging through the early-voting state in an attempt to widen a lead that was recently imperiled when her Democratic opponents stepped up their game of hardball against her following last week's candidate debate.
The frontrunner's worries that opponents Barack Obama and John Edwards could outflank her in the heartland have set her to hiring 100 new staff in Iowa and possibly doubling that army by election night on Jan. 3.
It also has led to a back and forth about fair play that has even dragged husband Bill Clinton into the fray.
The former president has denounced attacks on his wife, likening criticism of her positions on issues to the attack ads by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that helped sink John Kerry's White House hopes in 2004.
"We saw what happened the last seven years when we made decisions in elections based on trivial matters. When we listened to people make snide comments about whether Vice President Gore was too stiff. And when they made dishonest claims about the things that he said that he'd done in his life. When that scandalous Swift Boat ad was run against Senator Kerry," Bill Clinton told some 3,000 members of the American Postal Worker's Union at a convention in Las Vegas on Monday night.
"I had the feeling that at the end of that last debate we were about to get into cutesy land again," he continued. "I think it's fine to discuss immigration. We should. ... But not in 30 seconds, yes, no, raise your hand. This is a complicated issue."
Hillary Clinton has let her husband do the talking in her defense, instead taking the high road and telling Iowa voters she's running a "positive campaign." Her strategy of turning the other cheek plays to Iowa's long-running antagonism toward negative campaigning.
Clinton is leading in Iowa by a narrower margin than she has been polling nationally, but even her national numbers have slipped in the last week. A Rasmussen poll taken of 750 likely voters between Nov. 1 and 4 showed Clinton with 41 percent support, down from the 49 percent she earned in a similar Rasmussen poll taken two weeks earlier. Her closest opponent, Obama, has 22 percent, the same number he held in the earlier poll.
In Iowa, an American Research Group poll taken between Oct. 26 and 29 of 600 likely voters put Clinton 10 points ahead of Obama, with 32 percent support. A University of Iowa poll taken a week earlier only gave her a two-point lead.
Trying to widen the gap in Iowa, Clinton has visited 33 Iowa cities this week to speak about her plan to increase biofuels production, achieve energy independence and create so-called "green" jobs.
But her pledge to stay positive has done little to silence her opponents, who scoffed Tuesday at her husband's raising the specter of the Swift Boats ads.
Democratic candidate and Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd called the Clintons' response to the debate "outrageous."
"To have the former president come out and suggest this is a form of swiftboating ... is way over the top in my view," Dodd said.
Edwards, the former North Carolina senator who in recent days has led the charge against Clinton, continued the barrage, releasing a statement challenging Clinton to answer five "simple questions" on Iraq and claiming she has provided no plan for ending the war.
Asked in New Market, N.H., if he was piling on the Democratic frontrunner with the rest of the all-male field, Edwards said, "No."
"I think everyone who is running for president should be held to the same standard, and I have enough respect for all voters, including women voters in America, who know they have to evaluate every single one of us on the merits," he said.
Obama, the Illinois senator, chuckled in an interview with The Associated Press when he said he "was pretty stunned" by Bill Clinton's statement. He added that all the candidates need to have a thicker skin.
"I mean, I think it's assumed that we are running for the presidency of the United States of America and that we've got to answer tough questions," he said, adding that Hillary Clinton's contradictions attract criticism.
"How you would then draw an analogy to distorting somebody's military record is a reach," Obama said of Bill Clinton's comparison.
A Clinton spokesman on Tuesday urged the New York senator's Democratic opponents to tone down the anti-Clinton rhetoric and join forces with her against attacks from the Republican Party.
"While Senator Obama copies John Edwards by spending his days attacking other Democrats, Senator Clinton is talking about how she'll address the nation's energy crisis," said spokesman Jay Carson. "Senator Obama is well aware that the former president was saying that the Republicans will do anything to play politics with a serious issue. So instead of launching another attack against the Clintons, Senator Obama should join with them in working to prevent all Democrats from being attacked by the GOP."
Obama's spokesman Bill Burton didn't let that notion rest.
"The only person playing politics today is Senator Clinton. It's absurd to compare a simple yes or no question about immigration that Senator Clinton still won't answer seven days after the debate to the despicable Republican attacks against John Kerry. ... Senator Obama believes that to truly stand up to the Republican attack machine, we have to be honest and straightforward about where we stand on the major issues facing America," Burton said.
Clinton is headed to New Hampshire next but plans to return to Iowa Saturday. The packed schedule in Iowa appears to be wearing on her, as she frequently makes reference to her raspy voice.
"My voice is getting a little worn down. I've been talking for about 10 months. Especially the last four days," she said Tuesday in Amana.
FOX News' Serafin Gomez, Major Garrett and Aaron Bruns and The Associated Press contributed to this report.