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White House foes renew battle Saturday on multiple fronts, through snow piled prairies and a blizzard of political ads, a tantalizing five days before their fates are first put to voters.
Democrats Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards, locked in a cut-throat struggle ahead of Thursday’s leadoff Iowa nominating caucuses, are straining to outdo one another with clarion calls for political change.
Republican Mike Huckabee, the come-from-nowhere former Baptist preacher meanwhile talks of triggering a political earthquake in Iowa, while the rival he elbowed out of the lead, Mitt Romney, lashes back.
Senator John McCain is plotting a comeback in his favored stamping ground of New Hampshire, which votes in a primary on January 8, with the Republican race nationally wide open with, unusually, no prohibitive favorite.
A pall meanwhile is still draped over the campaign trail after the murder of ex-Pakistani premier Benazir Bhutto, which refocused debate on national security and the experience and knowledge required of a US president.
Candidates will fan out across the rural midwestern state, which despite its sparse population and mostly-white demographics, plays an outsize role in testing and trimming presidential fields due to its first-in-the nation status.
Obama is vowing to redefine embittered US politics and Edwards is on a populist crusade against big business, while Clinton says only she has the top-level Washington experience to get things done.
“Some people just demand change, some people just hope for change, but I think you get change by working really, really hard for change,” Clinton says in a swipe at her two rivals in every campaign stop.
After a rocky few weeks before Christmas, Clinton, the long-time front-runner, has steadied her campaign, and polls show her in a dead-heat with her rivals in Iowa, and under pressure from Obama in New Hampshire.
Obama, 46, is meanwhile hammering Clinton, 60, and pleading with voters to turn to a new generation to flush out Washington, casting her as a symptom of a broken political system, not the cure.
“I talk about hope a lot — partly because it is very unlikely that I am standing here today,” said Obama, who is vying to become the first African American president in US history, at an Iowa campaign stop Friday.
“Now some of my opponents appear scornful of the word. They think it reeks of being naive or passive or engaging in wishful thinking but that’s not what hope is. Hope is not blind optimism.”
Edwards, the 2004 vice presidential nominee knows his political career hangs on a good showing in Iowa, given that polls show him struggling to compete with Clinton and Obama nationwide.
“To get real change, we need a president who will stand up against the big corporations and powerful interests who control Washington,” he said Friday in Dubuque, Iowa.
The Republican field meanwhile remained in turmoil with various sectors of the party powerbase still unhappy with their choices, ahead of a flurry of January nominating contests.
Huckabee flew back to Iowa on Thursday and met a crowd of 1,500 Republicans, many evangelical conservatives, who coalesced around the candidate’s folksy anti-abortion, pro-education message.
“We actually have a chance to win, which would be historic,” Huckabee told reporters on Friday.
“I would call it a seismic political event, significant on the political Richter scale if it happens,” he said, saying his grass roots campaign had been outspent 20 to one by Romney.
A former Massachusetts governor and multi-millionaire businessman, Romney has pleaded with evangelicals not to rule him out due to suspicion over his Mormon faith.
Romney has based his campaign on wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, but has lost the lead to Huckabee in the first, and is under pressure in the latter by a resurgent McCain.
Romney has launched barrage of televised political attack ads on his two rivals, slapping McCain on illegal immigration and Huckabee for perceived misteps on foreign policy.