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Obama Ups The Ante In Iowa

MASON CITY, Iowa — One week before Iowans gather for the first-in-the-nation caucus, Sen. Barack Obama said Wednesday that his message of change has already been “vindicated.”

Obama made the declaration at the outset of a critical final push in Iowa, first by bus through the Democrat-dominated eastern end of the state, then statewide by plane in the days leading up to the Jan. 3 caucus. 

He sharpened his criticism of one of his chief rivals, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, even though he did not mention her by name. And in an effort to fine tune his final pitch to voters, Obama told reporters at an unscheduled visit to a HyVee supermarket in Webster City that he is rewriting his stump speech to "focus people's attention on how close we are to making change." He plans to deliver it for the first time Thursday morning in Des Moines.

"I want to make sure people focus on bringing about big change, on who has a track record of pushing against the special interests," Obama said in the deli section as he greeted voters. "Hopefully, people will end up voting their dreams and their hopes as opposed to their fears."

Obama aides said he is still writing the speech. But he appeared to be testing out arguments in Mason City earlier in the day. 

At the beginning, “we were banking on the notion that if we gave the people a clear alternative … we felt we might be able to not just change political parties in the White House, but we might be able to change our politics,” Obama told about 500 people at Newman High School. “That was our bet. And 10 months later, that faith has been vindicated. What people said couldn’t be done, we might do.”

The declaration signaled Obama’s intent to continue to press a strategy focused on rooting out special interests, making government more transparent and bridging partisan divides, even as Clinton, who has described herself as a “change maker,” returns this week to positioning herself as the most experienced Democrat in the field.

The race in Iowa appears to be dead heat, with Obama, Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards trading positions in the polls.

Clinton was scheduled to return to Iowa later Wednesday while Edwards was in New Hampshire and due back in Iowa on Thursday.

“You have to ask yourself, who's talked the talk, because that will be the measure of how seriously they take this stuff,” Obama said.

“If they've been secretive in the past, they'll be secretive as president. If they haven't been all that strong on lobbyists in the past, [it] doesn't matter what they say in the campaign, they won't be that strong about it when they are president.”

Obama argued that his work as a Chicago community organizer, a law professor and an advocate for stricter government ethics in the Illinois state senate and U.S. Senate makes him uniquely qualified to deviate from the status quo.

“We have the chance, maybe for the first time in a generation, to come together and start tackling problems that George [W.] Bush made worse but that were there long before George Bush took office,” Obama said in another swipe at Clinton, who often invokes her husband’s presidency as a model.

Obama, who usually asks for undecided voters to raise their hands, took his plea one step further today.

Even if voters were “firm” in supporting another candidate, “we still want to be your second choice,” Obama said.

In Iowa’s Democratic caucus, candidates must have support from at least 15 percent of voters in every precinct to be deemed viable.

If a voter’s first-choice candidate is deemed not viable, the voter can throw support to another candidate.