Obama hammers Clinton as polls show tight race

Barack Obama rejected rival Hillary Clinton’s vow to forge change on Thursday, as polls showed a tight Democratic White House race in Iowa, a week before the state’s lead-off nominating clash.

In a soaring new speech, the Democratic senator sharpened his attacks on the former first lady, as the foes criss-crossed the ice-bound Mid-western state in a tussle for votes before next Thursday’s curtain-raising party caucuses.

The assassination of Pakistan’s former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, meanwhile, cast a tragic shadow over the campaign trail, and sparked fresh questions about which candidate was most qualified to wage the “war on terror”.

You can’t at once argue that you are the master of a broken system in Washington and offer yourself as the person to change it,” Obama said in a stump speech clearly targeting Clinton.

“You can’t fall behind conventional thinking on issues as profound as war and offer yourself as the leader who is best prepared to chart a new and better course for America,” he said in Des Moines.

Clinton had on Wednesday broken a fragile Christmas truce between the rivals, by jabbing at Obama’s “politics of hope” rhetoric, arguing that only a candidate steeped in Washington could wage a battle to change it.

“I am not coming to you with promises about what I think I can do or hopes that together we can achieve some of these ends ... but with a track record and an understanding of how difficult the process is,” Clinton said.

Change is the key theme of the 2008 election for Democrats, desperate to recapture the White House after eight years of President George Bush, and the national security, social and economic policies they abhor.

Clinton appears to have stabilised her campaign after a volley of stumbles before the Christmas holiday, but faces a fierce fight with Obama, and former party 2004 vice-presidential nominee John Edwards in Iowa.

An new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll showed Clinton leading Edwards by 31% to 25% among likely Iowa caucus-goers, with Obama on 22%.

Among all Iowa Democrats, Clinton was just 29% to 26% up on Obama with Edwards on 25%. The polls had a four percentage point margin of error.

On the Republican side, Mike Huckabee, the ordained Baptist preacher who shot into the lead in Iowa after mobilising the crucial evangelical Christian bloc, returned to the state.

“I love this country, and I love it more than I love the Republican Party; the Republican Party needs to be changed,” Huckabee said at a rally of several thousand supporters.

“If we don’t start solving real problems ...
no longer will it matter whether we are left or right. This country should not be about what party we belong to, it ought to be about what future we are going to have.”

Huckabee’s rival Mitt Romney, who led in the polls for months in the key state, blitzed the airwaves with advertising, knowing he probably needs wins in both Iowa and New Hampshire to have a viable path to the nomination.

Four of the Republican candidates—Huckabee, Romney, Rudolph Giuliani and Senator John McCain—remain so close in the earliest states to vote that they cannot be counted out.

Giuliani, the national frontrunner among Republicans, had taken the high-risk strategy of largely bypassing Iowa and New Hampshire to focus on Florida, which votes on January 29, and then other big states such as California and New York which vote on February 5.—AFP

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