Within Democratic field, Iran is the new Iraq
During Tuesday's debate, '08 contenders pounded Clinton for her recent vote on Iran resolution.
A day after Tuesday night's Democratic presidential debate, the most contentious of the seven staged thus far, Hillary Rodham Clinton cannot be blamed if she still feels like a human punching bag.Skip to next paragraph
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The New York senator's rivals served up sharp blows on issues ranging from Iran, immigration, and sealed personal records to larger questions of candor and electability. Time will tell if the two-hour slugfest in Philadelphia takes a toll on her support among Democratic voters. Heading into the debate, she had formidable leads in national polls and in most states with early nomination contests.
But for now, two conclusions are clear: First, the debate gave Senator Clinton's Republican rivals plenty of new fodder for the general election, should she win the Democratic nomination. Already, GOP candidates are jumping all over her labored discussion of whether illegal immigrants should be granted driver's licenses. (After laying out a rationale for supporting such a policy, she eventually said no.)
Second, she demonstrated why it's so difficult to win the presidency as a sitting senator, a feat accomplished only twice in US history. The life of the senator is full of compromises, tactical moves, and nuanced votes – in short, positions that can take time to explain and certainly do not fit on a bumper sticker.
In the 2008 campaign cycle, perhaps no area is more ripe for the appearance of senatorial maneuvering than foreign policy. Lately, the focus has been Iran – and Exhibit A is Clinton's mid-October vote to declare Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps a foreign terrorist organization. The vote launched a wave of attacks from fellow Democrats, who call it an echo of her 2002 vote to authorize US military action against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. None of the other Democratic senators running for president supported the measure, arguing that it helps President Bush build a case for war with Iran.
In her first response at the debate, Clinton portrayed herself as an opponent of Mr. Bush's policies on Iran. "The Republicans are waving their sabers and talking about going after Iran," she said. "I want to prevent a rush to war."
Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, the sharpest critic of Clinton all evening, jumped on that statement.
"She says she'll stand up to President Bush on Iran; she just said it again," Mr. Edwards said. "And in fact, she voted to give George Bush the first step in moving militarily on Iran, and he's taken it. Bush and [Vice President Dick] Cheney have taken it. They've now declared the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization and a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction. I think we have to stand up to this president."
At the time of the vote, Clinton said she supported the resolution as a boost to diplomatic efforts to deny Iran access to nuclear materials. But analysts also saw her position – like her vote on Iraq five years ago – as a move to boost her image as tough on defense. As a woman and as a member of a party that has fought for decades to restore its image on defense, she may feel it is particularly important to carve out a centrist position, analysts say.