Dems Vying for President Wary of Attacking Clinton Democratic presidential hopefuls shy away from throwing hard punches at Sen. Hillary Clinton, who holds the lead, but are cautious of making her weak before Republican rivals.
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Dems Vying for President Wary of Attacking Clinton

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Dems Vying for President Wary of Attacking Clinton

Dems Vying for President Wary of Attacking Clinton

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

All right. So did Hillary Clinton's rivals succeed in raising doubts about the Democratic frontrunner?

To talk more about that, we turn now to NPR News analyst Juan Williams. Good morning.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Especially, Juan, Barack Obama and John Edwards, they're desperately trying to gain any ground against Senator Clinton. Did they manage that last night?

WILLIAMS: Well, this was the seventh debate that the Democrats have had, Renee, and the first in a month. And I think in that month the landscape has significantly shifted with Senator Clinton now taking a really significant lead and also in the fundraising as well as the polls. So you had attacks coming on Iraq, on her vote on Iran on the Revolutionary Guard being designated as terrorists, and on Social Security. But I don't think that they landed a glove. I mean, in a sense, they could raise issues about differences on her vote on even going back to authorizing President Bush to go to war in Iran, but I don't think that they landed a glove significantly strong enough to say that they knocked that - knocked her out or raise significant doubts among Democratic voters.

MONTAGNE: You're talking about laying the glove. Senator Obama gave an interview to the New York Times over the weekend in which he said he was going to begin confronting Hillary Clinton more forcefully. You know, did he throw - did he live up to his words, throw some punches?

WILLIAMS: Well, he did throw some punches. He raised the question as to whether or not Republicans are talking so much about Senator Clinton because they're looking forward to running against her, which raises the electability question: if you're Democrat and you really want to win the White House, is Hillary Clinton the right Democrat to put forward? John Edwards picked up on it, and I think John Edwards actually was far more aggressive in going after Hillary Clinton - Senator Clinton on so many issues. But, again, the issue is, did you land a sufficiently strong blow that it was going to raise questions among people who seemed to be coalescing around Senator Clinton as the leading Democratic candidate?

MONTAGNE: Of course, Hillary Clinton's challengers are walking something of a tight rope. They want her to fall down but they don't to be seen tripping her up.

WILLIAMS: Yes, exactly right, Renee. This is an interesting problem. They want to go back again to the war issue because that's the dominant issue of the campaign. But you get Senator Obama, for example, raising the issue about the release of Senator Clinton's correspondence when she was first lady of the United States and why it hasn't been put out there - suggesting that she's very secretive, that she's simply saying what people want to hear conveniently, but actually a centrist, not truly in keeping with the liberal leanings of much of the party's base. These are the kinds of insinuations. But is it the kind of punch - in using the analogy we've been stake-sticking with this morning, Renee - that you think is going to raise significant questions in the minds of Democratic voters. It didn't seem to be case the last night.

MONTAGNE: Yeah, the talk of the Democratic Party is that Hillary may be the strongest Democrat in the primaries but possibly the weakest in the general election. That is the easiest target for the GOP. Why didn't we hear arguments along those lines last night?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think that you are starting to hear those questions about the electability but they're not in full throat yet. And I think part of this is that, of course, you don't want to be accused if you're one of her fellow Democrats of setting her up for defeat, sort of right, you know, weakening her so that she's more vulnerable to coming attacks from Republicans. And the second part of this, Renee, is I think there's more to come. I think there's more and more in the ear sort of scurrilous personal attacks that are being launched against Senator Clinton and…

MONTAGNE: Juan?

WILLIAMS: …Democrats decided they're not ready to do that yet.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much. NPR News analyst Juan Williams.

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