Starting Gate: Are You Experienced?

(AP Photo)
Hillary Clinton yesterday emphasized the importance of experience while stumping in Iowa even as new evidence emerged showing voters in that state are more interested in change. "There is one job we can't afford on-the-job training for – our next president," Clinton said in an economic speech. "That could be the costliest job training in history. Every day spent learning the ropes is another day of rising costs, mounting deficits and growing anxiety for our families. And they cannot afford to keep waiting."

It's the crux of Clinton's campaign message. Whether the issue is the economy, health care or the war in Iraq, Clinton argues that she understands the process, knows how to pull the levers of power and has learned from mistakes of the past. While John Edwards tries to turn that experience against her by arguing she is too beholden to the established system, Barack Obama largely dismisses the importance of experience altogether.

Obama consistently questions the value of Clinton's eight years spent as First Lady, often pointing out that he has spent more time in elective office that the New York Senator. Responding to Clinton's pitch yesterday, Obama retorted, "My understanding is she wasn't Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration. I don't know exactly what experience she's claiming. Rather than just assert experience, if she has specific differences with me in regard to economic policy then let's have that debate."

In an Iowa contest which has been a virtual dead-heat between the top three Democrats for months, there are signs that Obama may be winning that argument – or at least benefitting from the desire for change. In the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, Obama not only holds a slim four-point lead, he also appears to be on the right side of the state's Democrats on the experience v. change argument. Fifty-five percent of those polled said their number one priority was a "new direction and new ideas" while just 33 percent said they are seeking "strength and experience."

Obama is fond of saying that experience doesn't count for much when the wrong judgments are made and uses his initial opposition to the war in Iraq to underscore the point. Iowa remains ground zero for the Democratic race and Clinton recently shifted a whole lot of resources to the state. She may need more than staff and money, however, to hold back Obama if Iowa Democrats come down on the side of change over experience.

Giuliani's New Hampshire Dilemma: Forget Iowa, Rudy Giuliani's campaign is increasing focus and energies on the friendlier turf of New Hampshire. Giuliani launched his second ad of the campaign in the Granite State yesterday, with a direct reference to his leadership during 9/11. In recent weeks, Giuliani's campaign has increased its emphasis on New Hampshire as Mitt Romney has solidified his lead both there and in Iowa.

For months, Giuliani himself has telegraphed his campaign strategy, which relies heavily on winning large states like Florida and those up for grabs on Super-Duper Tuesday. But Romney's apparent strength in the early states appears to be cause for concern within camp Giuliani. Without at least a strong showing in Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina, they could find themselves on the wrong end of the momentum business.

A new poll out today demonstrates Giuliani's challenge. The CNN/WMUR survey shows Romney gaining and Giuliani slipping. Romney weighs in at 33 percent, up from 25 percent in the same poll two months ago. Giuliani has dropped from 24 percent in September to 16 percent now. John McCain, who has seen a resurgence of late, takes over second place in the poll with 18 percent. It highlights what has always been a potential weakness of Giuliani's big-state strategy: how do you win late if you don't score early?

Clinton Says History Will Judge Bush "Harshly": From CBS News' Fernando Suarez, on the campaign trail with Clinton:

During her final campaign stop in Tama, Iowa, Sen. Hillary Clinton was asked about the growing problem of partisanship in Washington, DC, but her response was far from unpartisan and seemed a lot more like the usual partisan politicking going on inside the beltway. Clinton told the questioner that shortly after 9/11 she met with President Bush to offer him her support. But Clinton says Mr. Bush chose to advance his own political agenda instead. "He was more interested in scoring partisan points than pulling us together as a nation," said Clinton. As a result, Clinton says "history will judge President Bush very harshly." Clinton went on to say that she recognizes Mr. Bush won reelection in 2004 - "narrowly" as she put it - but claims he could have won by a larger margin had he been a more unifying president.

One of Clinton's biggest hurdles in this campaign is the perception that she is divisive, something she has battled since her days as First Lady. Some have argued that in order for Clinton to improve her image and likeability over the years, she's had to adopt a broader, less divisive agenda moving her ever so slowly to the center of the political spectrum. But, most national polls find Clinton still maintains higher unfavorable ratings than her opponents, despite leading them in those same polls. While in Tama, Clinton said, "I am looking for a way to isolate the negativity, to diminish the extreme political positions. America is not a country of extremism, we're centrists." The term "centrist," however, is not the way most of her Republican foes would label her.

The former first lady was addressing a crowd of about 200 supporters at the Blue Grass Café, coming off of a long campaign day that started in Des Moines. Clinton told the crowd, "I'm not running to live in the White House, I've already done that. I'm not running to get publicity and to become famous, unfortunately that's already happened."

Clinton is scheduled to campaign in various parts of Iowa on Tuesday before heading home to Chappaqua, New York for Thanksgiving.

Around The Track

  • He's not endorsing during the primaries but Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley predicts that Romney will win the January 3rd caucuses.
  • CBS News' Joy Lin reports that Mike Huckabee, who already has actor Chuck Norris appearing in campaign ads, will win the endorsement of WWE star Ric Flair. The two will campaign together this weekend at the South Carolina-Clemson football game.
  • Obama will unveil his education proposals today in New Hampshire, calling for affordable preschool for all, higher pay for teachers and free tuition for would-be teachers who pledge to work in needed areas of study or locations.
  • Bill Richardson answers the Veep question this way: "Am I running for vice president? No."