Hillary Goes on Attack; Debate Turns into Shouting Match

Article excerpt

Byline: Christina Bellantoni, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton last night retaliated against her two main challengers for the first time - saying neither has taken bold stances on the issues.

Mrs. Clinton, of New York, said in last night's CNN debate that she is the most tested presidential candidate who can beat Republicans, and sharply criticized Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.

"I don't mind taking hits on my record on issues, but when somebody starts throwing mud, at least we can hope that it's both accurate and not right out of the Republican playbook," said Mrs. Clinton, who began by joking that she prepared for debate combat by wearing a pantsuit made of asbestos.

She added, "Republicans are not going to vacate the White House voluntarily" and, "we need someone who is tested and ready to lead."

Mrs. Clinton also blasted Mr. Obama's health care plan because it does not, like her own, mandate coverage. Instead, he has proposed making coverage more affordable and mandating coverage for children.

"His plan would leave 15 million Americans out. That's about the population of Nevada, Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire," she said, referring to four of the first nominating states.

The debate included at times angry exchanges among the three major candidates, with the Democrats speaking over each other and appearing clearly frustrated.

Mr. Obama came out swinging, saying voters are seeking "straight answers to tough questions and that is not what we've seen out of Senator Clinton on a host of issues."

"What I want to do in this campaign is make certain that we are breaking out of the gridlock and the partisanship and the standard practices of Washington and actually start listening to the American people to get things done," he said.

Mrs. Clinton hit back with the health care argument. Next up was Mr. Edwards, who said the former first lady won't bring change to Washington.

"She ... continues to defend a system that does not work, that is broken, that is rigged and is . corrupted against the interest of most Americans and corrupted for a very small, very powerful, very well-financed group," he said, repeating an argument that he uses on the campaign trail to push his universal health care plan, which he says will buck special interests.

Mrs. Clinton was quick to respond with a reminder: "When Senator Edwards ran in 2004, he wasn't for universal health care. I'm glad he is now."

Several candidates were visibly irritated during the first few exchanges, and there were moments when at least three candidates or moderator Wolf Blitzer were speaking at once.

"The American people don't give a darn about any of this stuff that's going on up here," said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, going on to tout his own experience.

"They're worried about whether or not their child is going to run into a drug dealer on the way to school. They're worried about whether or not they're going to be able to pay for their mortgage," he said, "whether they're going to keep their job. And they're worried about whether their son in the National Guard's going to get killed in Iraq."

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut agreed the tone of the evening wouldn't solve the nation's problems. "We want a Democratic candidate who can unite our party. …