Clinton, Obama take gloves off

Published: Monday, January 7, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 7, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.

MANCHESTER, N.H. - The leading Democratic presidential candidates clashed Sunday over each other's claim to be the true candidate of change in the final hours of the slushy New Hampshire homestretch. Clinton told voters they should elect "a doer, not a talker.'' Obama countered that his rivals are stuck in the politics of the past.

At a raucous rally in a high school gymnasium in Nashua, Clinton skewered Obama for several votes he has cast in the Senate, such as his vote in favor of the Patriot Act and for energy legislation she described as "Dick Cheney's energy bill.'' She never mentioned Obama's name but left no doubt about whom she was discussing.

"You campaign in poetry, you govern in prose,'' Clinton said.

Obama, speaking at a packed Manchester theater, took issue with Clinton's criticism of him during Saturday's Democratic presidential debate.

"One of my opponents said we can't just, you know, offer the American people false hopes about what we can get done,'' he said.

"The real gamble in this election is to do the same things, with the same folks, playing the same games over and over and over again and somehow expect a different result,'' he said. "That is a gamble we cannot afford, that is a risk we cannot take. Not this time. Not now. It is time to turn the page.''

The rhetoric reflected the potentially pivotal nature of Tuesday's primary. Obama, the freshman Illinois senator, is hoping to sustain momentum from his caucus victory in Iowa, and Clinton is looking to recover from her stinging third-place finish.

A CNN/WMUR poll released Sunday gave Obama a small lead over Clinton, with John Edwards trailing.

One of the sharpest exchanges of the day came when Edwards and the Clinton campaign traded words over Edwards' reference to last month's death of a 17-year-old girl, Nataline Sarkisyan of California, in making his case for challenging the health insurance industry.

Edwards, speaking to reporters in Keene, said Clinton and her advisers "have no conscience'' after a Clinton aide suggested Edwards was using medical victims "as talking points'' in his presidential bid. Edwards campaigned with Sarkisyan family members Sunday.

In Saturday's televised debate from Manchester, Clinton acknowledged Edwards helped the Senate pass a "patient bill of rights,'' but she noted that the measure died in the House.

"One of the reasons that Nataline may well have died is because there isn't a patient's bill of rights,'' Clinton said in the debate.

On Sunday, she said her point was that Edwards "answered a question about what his greatest accomplishment was in the Senate by trying to mislead people that a bill he worked on became law.''

Sunday's campaign tone picked up from the debate, when Obama and Edwards seemed to work in tandem to deny Clinton's claim that she is the best prepared to undertake change.

Edwards told reporters that he and Obama offer real change to voters, while Clinton represents "the status quo.'' He also argued he has more passion for change and would be more willing to fight for his goals than Obama. "He just believes you can negotiate with people,'' Edwards said.

Obama sounded an upbeat tone throughout the day, telling New Hampshire crowds their votes could propel him to the Democratic nomination.

"You will have the chance to change America in two days time,'' he said. "In two days we can do what the cynics said could not be done. We will have the chance to come together, Democrats, Republicans, independents and announce that we are one nation, we are one people and it is time for change in America. This is our moment, this is our time.''

Meanwhile, the former first lady was clearly elated to be greeted by a large, enthusiastic audience in the same Nashua high school that Obama filled the day before. Both candidates had to use a second gym for the overflow crowd.

With the war still prominent in the minds of New Hampshire voters, Clinton said at one stop: "After 9/11, I would never have taken us to war in Iraq. I would have stayed focused on Afghanistan because the real threat was coming from there.''

Pressed by a reporter later to explain the comment given her vote to support the use of military force in Iraq, Clinton said it was nothing different from what she'd said in the past. "At the time that vote took place, I said it wasn't a vote for pre-emptive war,'' she said.

Earlier Sunday, Clinton and daughter Chelsea braved slushy sidewalks to go door to door in Manchester for about an hour seeking votes.

Husband Bill was campaigning in North Conway, N.H., sticking to the key word "change.''

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