Clinton talks Iraq Withdrawal, hugs higher minimum wage

Hillary Clinton highlighted her antiwar efforts and embraced John Edwards’ $9.50 minimum wage as her five-day Iowa blitz drew to a close, a clear signal camp Clinton needed to do more than hop-scotch across the state on a “Hil-a-copter” and dispatch surrogates statewide to tell tales of the “human side” of Hillary.

In Grundy City Thursday, Clinton talked up her Senate votes to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq within a year.

“In the Senate, I’ve been fighting the Bush administration to change course and end the war,” Clinton said. I have voted to complete the redeployment of our forces by December 2008. I have voted repeatedly against continuing to fund the war.”

In response to a question about timetables for withdrawal, Clinton said: "I think we can bring nearly everybody hom, you know, certainly within a year if we keep at it and do it very steadily."

These remarks left two campaigns – Edwards’ and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson’s – with the impression Clinton was now embracing a full U.S. pullout from Iraq by the end of next year. If so, it would represent a stark contrast with her oft-stated “safe and responsible” troop withdrawal goal that lacks a hard timetable. Not incidentally, the Edwards and Richardson camps see it as a massive position switch more in line with their long-standing calls for rapid Iraq troop withdrawals.

Of the two, only the Richardson campaign complained on the record.

"Senator Clinton's statement that we could 'certainly get all the troops out within a year' is a stunning flip-flop from what she has been saying all along," Richardson said in a statement. "She consistently has called for leaving troops in Iraq to fight al-Qaida, train Iraqis, and protect U.S. assets. Has that suddenly been abandoned? If so, why has she changed her mind?

"In a September debate, she said that she could not commit to getting our troops out in five years, let alone in one year. Has anything changed about the logistics besides her position in the polls? It is clear that she is responding directly to my latest ad and my statements that she repeatedly has called for leaving thousands of troops in Iraq indefinitely. Rather than defending her position, apparently she simply has changed it."

Clinton’s camp says there no change in her position.

"Governor Richardson knows that Senator Clinton has been clear and consistent: if George Bush has not ended the war in Iraq, she will," campaign spokesman Phil Singer said. "As she has said, she would accomplish that by beginning to withdrawal our troops within 60 days after inauguration at the rate of one or two brigades a month. This would mean that nearly all troops could be home within a year."

Clinton aides say she has not and will not abandon the belief that a "small contingent" of U.S. combat troops would need to remain in Iraq to guard against a resurgent Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

On the minimum wage, Clinton has now proposed legislation to increase the minimum wage to $9.50 and dropped that bill just before Congress adjourned for the year. This last-minute legislative move strongly signals Clinton feels the need to shore up support among working-class Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire – households that once formed a core part of her base.

Edwards welcomed Clinton’s pre-Christmas embrace of a $9.50 wage threshold, something that for five months he's called on all Democratic presidential candidates to embrace.

“Just 14 days before the Iowa caucuses, Senator Clinton has answered my call,” Edwards said in a statement. “But changing America demands all of us do even more. In this spirit, I hope she will join me in rejecting the money of Washington lobbyists that is corrupting our system and hurting middle-class families.”

As for Barack Obama, he hasn't set a target number for the minimum wage. He has advocated indexing increases in the minimum wage to inflation. Campaign spokesman Bill Burton says that approach would increase the minimum wage to $9.50 per hour "as fast" as Edwards and now Clinton propose.

Poll tidbits: The New Gallup/USA Today poll today shows Obama and Clinton tied at 32 percent with Edwards at 18 percent. In four of six of the most recent New Hampshire polls, Clinton has lead with margins from 3 points to 14 points. Also, today's new Strategic Vision poll in Iowa shows Obama at 30 percent and Clinton and Edwards tied at 27 percent.

Reading between the line in the polls. Edwards announced this morning that uniquely among top-tier Democrats he will be in New Hampshire -- NOT IOWA -- the day after Christmas for events in Conway, Laconia, Manchester and Salem. This indicates Edwards sees a real chance to win in Iowa and doesn't want to neglect New Hampshire so he can capitalize on a possible Iowa victory. Of course, with Clinton and Obama in Iowa, Edwards can dominate the New Hampshire media market. But if Edwards were feeling uneasy about the must-win state of Iowa, he wouldn't dare venture to New Hampshire and leave the Iowa media market to Clinton and Obama.

In a release, Edwards touts 80 paid staff in the Granite State, "eight times the field organizers it had on the ground during the 2003-2004 cycle." Edwards says he can compete with "anyone's" field operation in New Hampshire. It's worth noting that while the Obama-Clinton battle in New Hampshire has ebbed and flowed, one constant in the polls has been a slow Edwards climb since mid-November from the low teens to the high teens. Still, he has yet to break 20 and probably needs to cross that threshold before the caucuses -- which may be another reason to hit New Hampshire on Boxing Day.