Candidates in Iowa Weigh In on Pakistan

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Pakistan events highlight the mood swings in Iowa, where Hillary Clinton is on the offensive again with less than a week to go before the caucuses.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

And at this time next week, we'll be talking about winners and losers, who's got the momentum and who doesn't. Next Thursday, the Iowa caucuses kick off the presidential election season. So today, we're going to take stock of where the races are in Iowa and also in two other early states.

And we'll begin in Iowa with NPR's Don Gonyea. He's been traveling with Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Don, depending on which poll you reach, you see they're slightly ahead or slightly behind Barack Obama in Iowa. And today, I gather she was in Story City, about 60 miles north of Des Moines.

DON GONYEA: Exactly. She is speaking at a small elementary school here. It's a very common setting for an event for Senator Clinton - a relatively small place, but with several hundred people packed in pretty tightly listening to her.

SIEGEL: And I gather she responded once again today to the news about the death of Benazir Bhutto.

GONYEA: She certainly did. And she's really using the events in Pakistan yesterday to focus on what she says is a major failing of the Bush administration in terms of how it has dealt with Pakistan, and specifically with Pakistani president, General Pervez Musharraf.

Again, in this gymnasium with people crowded in, she said that the Bush administration's blank check for policy for Musharraf has failed. She said also that Musharraf, and Pakistan in general, should not be trusted as the ones to look into Benazir Bhutto's death.

Here's Senator Clinton.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Presidential Candidate): We need an international, independent investigation of the death of Benazir Bhutto. The Pakistani government does not have the credibility to conduct that investigation.

(Soundbite of applause)

SIEGEL: Don, it sounds like Hillary Clinton is tougher today on the Musharraf regime and the Bush White House than she was at first yesterday.

GONYEA: She had certainly sharpened her focus. She is still talking about the personal relationship she had with Benazir Bhutto and she's still, you know, offering condolences, but she is also saying that the Bush administration has failed in two key things: in moving Pakistan towards a stable democracy and that the Bush administration has failed in fighting the Taliban and al-Qaida base there and their allies. She says those are two critical failings in is what - one of the most complicated, but also one of the most dangerous places in the world. So that has been the focus. Again, more so, on President Bush than on any of her Democratic rivals.

SIEGEL: The Obama campaign is accusing her of aiding and debating(ph) the Bush administration, chiefly, by voting to authorize force against Iraq five years ago.

GONYEA: She responds to that by talking about her experience and how these events this week, the past few days of Pakistan demonstrate how you need someone who is experienced, who is ready from day one after taking the oath of office. That's Senator Clinton's focus here.

SIEGEL: NPR's Don Gonyea traveling with the Hillary Clinton campaign in Iowa.

Thank you, Don.

GONYEA: My pleasure.

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