PHILADELPHIA – With just over two months until the first primary contest, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Democratic rivals aggressively challenged their party’s front-runner here Tuesday night, accusing her of being dishonest and of emboldening President Bush to declare war against Iran.
Former Sen. John Edwards, of North Carolina, lingering in third place in most polls, took the lead in attacking Clinton as Democrats gathered for the fourth of their six official debates. He mocked Clinton for voting to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist group and all but accused her of being corrupt.
Voters, Edwards said, “deserve a president of the United States that they know will tell them the truth, and won’t say one thing one time and something different at a different time.”
Sen. Barack Obama, of Illinois – under pressure to take sharp aim at Clinton – criticized her directly for not releasing her correspondence as first lady. But he kept his cool demeanor, describing her tendency toward secrecy as simply “a problem.”
Under fire, Clinton defended her positions on Social Security and Iran, and denied assertions – made most forcefully during the debate by Edwards – that she was mirroring the Republican Party in her actions and rhetoric.
“Well, I don’t think the Republicans got the message that I’m voting and sounding like them,” Clinton said. “If you watched their debate last week, I seemed to be the topic of great conversation and consternation. And that’s for a reason: because I have stood against George Bush and his failed policies.”
The most pointed back-and-forth came over Iran. Clinton supported a Senate resolution last month that urged the administration to label the Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization. The measure was approved by a vote of 76-22, but all of Clinton’s rivals opposed it Tuesday night as the Bush administration enabling a rush to war with Iran.
Clinton defended the vote, saying that early this year she had argued that Bush has no authority to use military force to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Her opponents, however, sharply challenged her interpretation of the measure. Edwards said the resolution read as if it were “written literally by the neocons.”
Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, recalling the 2002 congressional resolution on Iraq, said that the vote on the Iran resolution could come back to haunt those who supported it.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson called the resolution “saber rattling” by the Senate that would embolden the administration.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, of Ohio, accused his fellow Democrats of being “enablers” for not ruling out war against Iran. He said the Democratic support for labeling the Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist group amounted to “licensing President Bush.”
Richardson defended Clinton briefly, a move that seemed destined to fuel speculation that he is interested in being chosen as a vice presidential running mate. He said the debate had gotten “pretty close to personal attacks that we don’t need.”