No more Mr. Nice Guys

Barack Obama and John Edwards separately castigated Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton for defending lobbyists and portrayed her as the consummate Washington insider with special interest ties.

“If you don’t think lobbyists have too much influence in Washington, then I believe you’ve probably been in Washington too long,” Obama said Monday. Added Edwards in an Associated Press interview: “Democratic candidates, and for that matter all candidates, should just say we’re not taking these peoples’ money anymore because it’s the way to take their power away from them, and it’s the way to bring about the change that this country needs.”

Among Republican hopefuls, John McCain promised to protect individual’s property rights, Rudy Giuliani sidestepped a question about his daughter’s apparent enthusiasm for Obama and Sam Brownback squared off with Mitt Romney over the sanctity of life.

Unencumbered now that Congress is on a monthlong break, presidential candidates from both parties descended on the leadoff contest state of Iowa, where they tested themes, rolled out proposals and maneuvered for support.

The sharpest elbows Monday came from Obama, the Illinois senator, and Edwards, the former North Carolina senator. They seized on Clinton’s remarks at a weekend candidate forum in Chicago to argue she was not the candidate of change but rather a Washington creature who would maintain the status quo.

On Saturday, the New York senator drew boos and hisses from liberal bloggers when, unlike Edwards and Obama, she refused to forsake campaign donations from the special interest industry. Instead, she said: “A lot of those lobbyists, whether you like it or not, represent real Americans, they actually do.”

Neither Edwards nor Obama accept money directly from federal lobbyists but both take contributions from people who work at firms with lobbying operations.

“I profoundly disagree with her statements,” Obama said in an Associated Press interview here. “This campaign is going to come down to whether you believe that it’s enough just to get somebody other than George Bush in the White House to fix what ails Washington, or do you think we need to set a fundamentally new course.”

Unveiling his trade policy at a Cedar Rapids, Iowa, union hall, Edwards argued that President Clinton allowed corporate insiders to shape the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement that has cost U.S. jobs. Swiping at the former president’s wife, Edwards said: “It’s time to have a president that always — always — puts the interests of the American people first.”

In an AP interview, Edwards argued that Washington lobbyists “rig the system” of government and candidates can take away such influence by refusing money from them. Edwards added: “This is not specifically just about Senator Clinton or anybody else, it’s about restoring the power of the government back to its people.”

Responding to the criticism, Clinton’s campaign circulated a memo arguing that opponents were threatened by polls showing her gaining ground. Said chief strategist Mark Penn: “She is the candidate of experience and change, a combination no other candidate can match.”

Among Republicans, Brownback and Romney continued to tangle on abortion as they sought the backing of influential social conservatives days ahead of an Iowa test vote.

The Kansas senator derided Romney’s opposition to expanded federal funds for embryonic stem-cell research as “a pro-choice position” in a radio interview and, later, posted a YouTube video assailing the former Massachusetts governor as “conveniently pro-life.”

“This is the key moral issue of our day and we don’t need people equivocating on it or rediscovering things,” Brownback says in the video.

Romney told ABC’s “Good Morning America:” “Sam Brownback is a sweet guy, but he’s obviously in a pretty desperate situation at this point. I am pro-life.”

By afternoon, during a stop in Florida, Romney had placed himself alongside President Reagan as a perfect conservative on a scale of 1 to 10, if Reagan were a 10. “Probably a 10 as well,” Romney said in response to a question despite a history of shifting on various issues, including a complete switch on abortion.

In Clear Lake, Iowa, Giuliani refused to discuss the political preferences of his 17-year-old daughter, Caroline. Until Monday morning, her Facebook profile showed she belonged to Obama’s Facebook group “Barack Obama (One Million Strong for Barack).” She left the group after the online magazine Slate inquired.

“My daughter I love very much,” Giuliani told reporters before declining to comment.

A spokeswoman for Caroline Giuliani said she had added herself to the Facebook list as an expression of interest and not as an indication of support for a candidate.

McCain, for his part, courted the limited-government wing of the GOP in a Rotary Club speech in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He criticized a 2005 Supreme Court decision giving local governments broad power to seize private property to generate tax revenue. And, he said that as president, he would “appoint strict constructionist judges” who “understand the security of private property” and, if needed, try to amend the Constitution to protect private property rights.

“Property rights protection means that the individual reaps the rewards from the sweat of his brow, not the government or those who control the government,” the Arizona senator said.

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Sidoti reported from Washington. Associated Press Writers Amy Lorentzen in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Nafeesa Syeed in Clear Lake, Iowa, and Brendan Farrington in Melbourne, Fla., contributed to this report.