Rivals call Clinton cozy with lobbyists

Front-runner counters she's champion of labor

August 08, 2007|By John McCormick and Stephen Franklin | John McCormick and Stephen Franklin,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

CHICAGO -- Just three days after they last met, the Democratic presidential candidates squared off yesterday evening near a Soldier Field end zone, and there was plenty of pushing and shoving.

With temperatures in the high 80s, the AFL-CIO forum was one of the more unusual and perhaps uncomfortable settings yet for a presidential debate this year.

Still, at least on television, you could not see the candidates sweat. There was plenty of heat, nonetheless.

Less than 15 minutes into the show, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards went after Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York for acceptance of money from federal lobbyists to help fund her campaign.

"You will never see a picture of me on the front of Fortune magazine saying, `I am the candidate that big, corporate America is betting on,'" Edwards said. "That's one thing you can take to the bank."

Clinton's picture illustrated a July 9 Fortune cover story on chief executive officers and the presidential contenders, entitled, "Who business is betting on."

It was an attack that Edwards, joined by Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, started three days earlier in Chicago at a forum sponsored by liberal Internet bloggers at McCormick Place.

When given a chance to respond, Clinton kept her comments positive.

"I've noticed in the last few days that a lot of the other campaigns have been using my name a lot," she said. "But I'm here because I think we need to change America. And it's not to get in fights with Democrats. I want the Democrats to win, and I want a united Democratic Party."

Clinton also sought to show that she has a track record of toughness.

"For 15 years, I have stood up against the right-wing machine, and I've come out stronger," she said. "So, if you want a winner who knows how to take them on, I'm your girl."

MSNBC's Keith Olbermann moderated the forum, which was broadcast live on MSNBC and XM radio. Organizers said more than 12,000 union members and their families were in attendance.

But it was not just Clinton who found herself a target on stage.

Obama's recent comments on how he would implement U.S. foreign policy prompted attacks from his rivals, who have used his statements to try to paint the first-term senator as a naive newcomer.

He found himself forced to defend his call for a potential unilateral U.S. military strike within Pakistan if that government did not act on intelligence showing al-Qaida activity that could include Osama bin Laden.

"I find it amusing that those who helped to authorize and engineer the biggest foreign policy disaster in our generation are now criticizing me for making sure we are on the right battlefield and not the wrong battlefield in the war against terrorism," Obama said amid growing applause in reference to those who voted to authorize the war in Iraq.

But Clinton and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut maintained that Obama was wrong to publicly make such comments without thinking about the potential ramifications in Pakistan, a nuclear power, under the unstable government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

Dodd said he had the "courage" to say he made a mistake for his 2002 vote to authorize U.S. troops in Iraq, and said Obama's comment was "dangerous."

Reflecting on the recent bridge collapse in Minneapolis, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said the nation must do more to invest in mass transit, smart-growth planning and infrastructure. "We have to invest in our power grid, our bridges, our highways," he said. "We have to start thinking about new infrastructure in America."

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware agreed that the ruling party has ignored needed investment. "These guys, Republicans, have been irresponsible about our infrastructure, our security, and the safety of this country," he said.

Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio criticized his fellow lawmakers in Congress as being too friendly with other nations on trade issues.

Former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel was the only Democratic candidate who did not participate in the forum. Union officials said he did not return the prerequisite candidate questionnaire.

John McCormick and Stephen Franklin write for the Chicago Tribune.

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