Dem Debate in NH Previews Clinton's Get-Obama Strategy

| Sun Jan. 6, 2008 2:42 AM EST

At the Democratic debate on Saturday night in New Hampshire, John Edwards came to the rescue of Barack Obama. Not that Obama needed it. But it provided Edwards the opportunity to (a) whack Hillary Clinton and (b) grab for the change wave that propelled Obama to victory in Iowa. In a debate featuring few true policy disputes, the thrusts and parries defined the final Democratic face-off before the first primary election--and they revealed the Clinton campaign's strategy for taking Obama down.

Edwards' moment came when Clinton--in a much-anticipated move--went after Obama. She accused her Senate colleague of flip-flopping on health care. First, she said, he was for single-payer health care; then he proposed a different sort of health care reform. "I think that what we're looking for is a president we can count on," she added.

As far as punches go, this was no knockout blow. Clinton's previous attempt to pick a fight with Obama over the differences in their health care plans--a distinction too wonkish for most voters to worry about--did not succeed. But she was giving it another shot, hoping to depict the winner of Iowa as just another pol. Obama gently defended himself, explaining that he had once said that his preference would be a single-payer system but that he believed it would not be practical to scrap the existing system to make way for such a plan. And he noted, again gently, that he did disagree with Clinton and Edwards on the need for mandating health care coverage. He went on to point out, gently once more, that he and Edwards both have taken a stand on Social Security--advocating a small increase in payroll taxes--which Clinton has declined to do. The two bickered some more, with Clinton claiming Obama had waffled on the Patriot Act and Iraq war funding.

Then John Edwards swooped in. "Any time you speak out powerfully for change, the forces of status quo attack," he said. He was equating Clinton with those forces. She glowered at him. Edwards continued:

Get Mother Jones by Email - Free. Like what you're reading? Get the best of MoJo three times a week.