MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
As it is in much of the country, it's Election Day in Iowa. That's for state and local offices. None of the presidential hopefuls are on the ballot. But you wouldn't know that from all of their activity. Nearly all the candidates are making the rounds in Iowa this week. Among Democrats, polls have Senator Hillary Clinton in front. But unlike the national polls, Clinton's Iowa lead is very narrow, and the race is considered a tossup with caucuses just weeks away.
NPR's Don Gonyea is in Cedar Rapids.
DON GONYEA: A hallmark of the presidential run of Senator Hillary is that there is an inevitability to her campaign, that her experience, organization, money and skills will make her the nominee.
But Iowa poses a significant test and a potential stumbling bloc. Her lead in the latest polls here is narrow and it was with a raspy voice that she greeted her audience at the middle school in Old Wine in northeast Iowa.
Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; 2008 Presidential Candidate): I've talking pretty much nonstop for, oh, I guess, about 10 months.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Sen. CLINTON: So I hope my voice doesn't fade in and out for you.
GONYEA: This event focused on renewable energy and climate change and education. Even with strained vocal chords, Clinton primed the crowd to turn out the fast-approaching caucuses.
Sen. CLINTON: By this time next year, we'll know who our next president is. It's going by pretty fast. And I don't think we have a minute to waste in our country, because we have a lot of big issues we've got to deal with.
GONYEA: One of those big issues came up during a Q&A period. Clinton was asked about the war by a teenage boy whose sister just shipped out for Iraq. It was a friendly question, unlike the angry one she sometimes gets about her vote to give President Bush to authority to go to war back in 2002. She responded with the criticism of the president. She stressed that U.S. troops have done all they have been asked to do and she promised to work to end the war, saying she'll do everything she can to begin withdrawing troops, quote, "as quickly and as responsibly as possible."
That kind of answer prompts this from Senator John Edwards who delivered a foreign policy speech yesterday at the University of Iowa.
Senator JOHN EDWARDS (Democrat, North Carolina; 2008 Presidential Candidate): How many troops will she withdraw? And when will she withdraw them? All that she said is she'll meet with generals within two months of taking office. That's not a plan. That's not even a real promise. It's the promise of a planning meeting.
GONYEA: It's an aggressive strategy designed to tap into anger core Democratic voters feel about the Iraq War and to get people wondering how long the war will last if Senator Clinton is elected.
The campaign is also playing out in the airwaves here. Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut is running ads, portraying both Edwards and Clinton as having the wrong approach to the nation's problems. In a campy, even self-deprecating narrative, the ads feature two barbers watching TV.
(Soundbite of Senator Chris Dodd's campaign ad)
Unidentified Man #1: Now she has a health care plan that lets you keep your…
Unidentified Man #2: Is that a new plan? The only way you're going to get health care passed is to bring Democrats and Republicans together.
Unidentified Group: Why not Dodd?
GONYEA: Then, there's Senator Barack Obama. He comes to Iowa tonight for the start of a bus caravan leading up to a speech at the annual Democratic bash, the Jefferson Jackson Dinner in Des Moines, Saturday. In recent weeks, Obama has talked of taking a much harder line against Senator Clinton as well, but so far that hasn't materialized in Iowa.
This Obama radio ad is currently running in the state.
(Soundbite of Senator Barack Obama's campaign ad)
Ms. DUFFY LYON: I'm Duffy Lyon. My husband and I raise dairy cows and beef cattle here in Iowa. But you might remember me as the state fair's Butter Cow Lady. You know, you see a lot of manure in our line of work. It's a lot like politics. You've got to know what's bull…
(Soundbite of bull bellowing)
Ms. LYON: …and what's for real.
GONYEA: It's a far cry from an attack ad, but Obama has a lot of events and will take lots of questions and give numerous speeches in the days ahead. So there will be plenty of opportunity to go after the front-runner as Senator Edwards has. The way Obama proceeds this week will say a lot about what his campaign will look like for the next two months, and about the calculations he has made about what voters want to hear.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, Cedar Rapids.
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