The Democratic presidential contenders appealed to party leaders for support on Friday, with Barack Obama touting his ability to attract new voters and John Edwards promising to reclaim Washington from special interests.
Barely a month before Iowa kicks off the state-by-state battle to pick candidates in the November 2008 general election, the Democratic contenders emphasized their ability to beat the Republicans and win the White House.
“I will eat him alive,” Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden said of Republican front-runner Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, in a speech to about 400 Democratic National Committee members and hundreds of other activists gathered in a northern Virginia hotel ballroom.
Front-runner Hillary Clinton, who leads national polls but is in a tight three-way race in Iowa with Obama and Edwards, canceled her afternoon speech after news of a hostage-taking at one of her New Hampshire campaign offices.
But five other contenders appeared at the meeting, and during a rousing morning session Obama touted his ability to draw Republicans and independents to his presidential campaign and said he could compete in states where Democrats have lost badly in past elections.
“I’m attracting more independents and Republicans to our cause than anyone else in this campaign,” said Obama, an Illinois senator. “I don’t want to pit red America against blue America. I want to be the president of the United States of America.”
He returned fire at Clinton’s campaign for criticizing his health care plan. Before the hostage incident, Clinton officials demanded he take down an advertisement touting his plan’s universal coverage because they said under it about 15 million Americans would remain without health insurance.
LOSING GROUND IN POLLS?
Obama’s campaign refused to stop airing the ad and said Clinton, a senator from New York, was lashing out because she was losing ground to Obama in some polls.
“If you can’t afford health insurance right now, you will be able to afford it when I’m president,” Obama said. “Anybody who tells you otherwise is scoring political points.”
He made reference to the bitter partisan battles during the administration of former President Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton’s husband.
“I don’t want to spend 2008 refighting the same fights that we had in the 1990s,” he said.
Edwards, a former North Carolina senator, told the Democratic crowd that special interests had built a wall around Washington and Democrats had helped them build it. He said he was the candidate who could knock it down.
“You have a choice in this election,” he said. “Do you want someone who is going to pretend that wall around Washington isn’t there … or do you want someone who is going to lead with conviction and tell you the truth and have a little backbone?”
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson took a shot at the Democratic-controlled Congress, saying they needed to do a better job of accomplishing Democratic priorities.
“We’re slipping into a recession. There are millions of Americans who are worried about keeping their jobs, their homes, their pensions and their quality of life, and we can’t even reject an attorney general who refuses to condemn torture,” he said.
“If we expect to win the presidency, hold on to the country and change the Congress, we’re going to have to do a lot better than that,” he said.
Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich also said he could win the White House, adding he had attended a morning prayer breakfast to assure everyone “I have a prayer.”