Starting Gate: Let The "Fun" Begin

(AP Photo)
Suddenly behind in the latest Iowa polls, Hillary Clinton is serving notice that the "fun" is about to begin. The latest Des Moines Register's Iowa Poll, one of the most respected surveys in the state, provided Barack Obama with a boost over the weekend, showing the Illinois senator with a three-point lead over Clinton among likely Democratic caucus-goers.

"I think the people of Iowa need to know there's a big difference between our plans, more importantly there's a big difference between our courage and our convictions, what we believe and what we're willing to fight for," Clinton told reporters yesterday. Citing the ongoing dispute between the candidates over their health care proposals and referencing Obama's PAC donations to influential early-state leaders, Clinton said she's fighting back.

"You know, I have said for months that I would much rather be attacking Republicans and attacking the problems of our country because ultimately that's what I want to do as president," she said. "But I have been for 4 months on the receiving end of rather consistent attacks. Well, now the fun part starts. We're into the last month and we're going to start drawing the contrast because I want every Iowan to have accurate information when they make their decisions."

"I think that folks from some of the other campaigns are reading the polls and starting to get stressed and issuing a whole range of outlandish accusations," Obama said of the Clinton camp's more aggressive stance.

Clinton's criticism yesterday focused on two issues. First is the dispute between the campaigns over their health-care plans. Clinton has hammered Obama with her contention that his plan does not amount to universal coverage while he has criticized her plan for lacking specifics on how mandated coverage would be enforced. But Clinton is increasingly drawing attention to reports that Obama's Hopefund political action committee, which she claims took money from lobbyists which was then donated to key leaders in the early primary states.

"Contrary to what we've been hearing for a year, (Hopefund) had lobbyist money and PAC money, and they were more than happy to take that money to influence elections and create relationships with people while he was running for president," she said. "We were told to shut ours down, and we did." Obama said his PAC operated within the law. "Everything that we've done is in exact accordance with the law," he said.

But it's a difficult issue for Obama, who has campaigned as someone who operates outside the bounds of "politics as usual." He and John Edwards have been critical of Clinton's acceptance of donations from lobbyists during the campaign and Clinton's focus on Hopefund could undermine the image he's cultivated throughout the year. As the new front-runner in Iowa, Obama is about to find out what it felt like to be Clinton for the past several months.

The Buddy System: From CBS News' Fernando Suarez, on the campaign trail with the Clinton campaign:

In a grassroots effort to boost her support among would-be voters in Iowa, the Clinton campaign unveiled its "Take a Buddy to Caucus" effort at a campaign stop in Cedar Rapids Sunday. The enthusiastic crowd at the Roundhouse (an old farmer's market) took their seats where awaiting them was a handout from the campaign which read: "Caucusing. It's more fun with a friend." The flyer features photographs of Mrs. Clinton and supporters on the cover. Inside, however, are clear instructions for the more experienced caucus goers. Participants in the Buddy program agree to: "Call your buddy twice before caucus night" and "write and mail a reminder postcard to your buddy" and "make a plan to ride with your Buddy to the caucus."

"Here's what we know – don't tell anybody, this is kind of between us," said Clinton "We know that everybody who is supporting me, if we all come out on January 3rd we're going to do really, really well."

The new push by the Clinton campaign comes just one day after the Des Moines Register poll. With only a month left in the caucus season, candidates are pulling out all the stops to get supporters to the precincts. "We're prepared to help in any way," assured Clinton pointing out that her staff would even be willing to shovel snow out of the driveways to get voters to caucus. Clinton reassured first-time caucus goers not to be scared noting that the new buddy system would help take the pressure off.

Although the buddy system sounds like a good campaign strategy, it will only make a difference if supporters actually turn out. "I know this is a close race here in Iowa, I think that makes this more exciting and makes your role even more important," said Clinton, "That means that if we come out in the numbers that are out there, we're going to do really well. But if people say, 'you know, I'm for her but I've never done it before' or 'it sounds too hard' or 'I think I'd rather stay home and watch the Orange Bowl,' we may not have that chance to make history."

Part of Clinton's biggest challenge in Iowa is that the majority of the former First Lady's supporters are first-time caucus goers – unlike most of her opponents who her campaign says have deeper ties to Iowa – leaving open the potential for a flakey turnout come January 3rd.

Jesse Jackson Jr. Rebukes Dad's Criticism Of Democratic Field: One-time presidential candidate and civil rights activist Jesse Jackson criticized the Democratic candidates for ignoring African Americans in a Chicago Sun-Tomes column last week. In a letter to the paper, his son, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. takes issue with that position: "As a national co-chairman of Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign, I've been a witness to Obama's powerful, consistent and effective advocacy for African Americans. He is deeply rooted in the black community, having fought for social justice and economic inclusion throughout his life. On the campaign trail -- as he's done in the U.S. Senate and the state Legislature before that -- Obama has addressed many of the issues facing African Americans out of personal conviction, rather than political calculation."

Around The Track

  • In advance of Mitt Romney's speech on religion, the Boston Globe provides the text of John F. Kennedy's speech on the topic from the 1960 presidential campaign.
  • Edwards will reportedly receive the endorsement of Iowa Congressman Bruce Braley today. If so, Braley would be the first Democratic representative from the state to endorse.
  • Meanwhile, Obama won the endorsement of Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie.
  • Ron Paul predicts his campaign could take in $12 million or more in the fourth quarter of 2007.
  • Iowa and New Hampshire may have retained their "first-in-the-nation" status but voters casting absentee ballots in Florida can begin submitting them on Christmas Day.