Edwards is trying to turn the Democratic presidential race
into a referendum on honesty and integrity, areas where
polling has shown that voters are divided about
Hillary Rodham Clinton.
marks a shift in a race where Edwards and Clinton's other
Democratic opponents have criticized her stance on policy
but usually have avoided taking on her character
directly. In an interview Monday with the Associated
Press, Edwards said Clinton is part of a corrupt
''Good people are
caught up in this system, and I've given some examples
of the places that I think she's caught up in it,'' Edwards
said. ''And I also, secondly, think that she continues
to defend it. And I don't think you can bring up the
change this country needs if you defend a corrupt
system that doesn't work.
''The closer we
get to the election and the more people move past
celebrity and to the issues such as honesty, integrity and
who can actually bring about change, I think they are
going to pay very close attention to those
questions,'' Edwards said while riding in a minivan
between campaign stops.
Edwards is a
former trial lawyer with a penchant for making effective
closing arguments that are strong on emotion, and he is
likely to press his case when the Democrats meet for a
debate Tuesday night in Philadelphia. His shift
against Clinton comes as she is leading in every
national and state poll.
even though a study out Monday found that she got some of
the most negative media coverage of the White House field.
And she's in front even though Edwards has been
ramping up his criticism of her since the summer,
particularly on her ties to lobbyists.
She also has been
subject to frequent character attacks from Republican
presidential candidates. Democratic consultant Stephanie
Cutter said that is a safer move since it has the
intended effect of firing up the GOP electorate
against a well-known Democrat.
issues are the most powerful attack lines in a general
election, but they are risky in a primary, especially when
questioning the honesty of someone like Hillary
Clinton who remains among the most popular in the
party,'' Cutter said. ''It can backfire. At the same time,
the Clinton campaign would be wrong to ignore it.''
A poll conducted
earlier this month for CNN found clear majorities of
voters see Clinton as a strong and decisive leader; as
likable; as able to work well with both parties; and
as caring about their needs. But on questions of
character, voters were split roughly in half when asked
whether she is honest and trustworthy; whether she shares
their values; and whether she is a person they admire.
Clinton is mostly running for president out of personal
''She said it,
didn't she?'' Edwards said. ''Wasn't her phrase early on
in her campaign, 'I'm in it to win?'''
that personal ambition played a role in his 2004
presidential campaign, but he said it is less so in this
you can never say personal ambition doesn't play a
role,'' Edwards said. ''But I do think that I'm driven by
something different. I'm driven by making this country
work for the kind of people I grew up with.''
campaign responded by pointing to what it said are
differences between Edwards' first and second White
Edwards's entire campaign has devolved into a daily routine
of negative personal attacks against Senator
Clinton,'' said Clinton spokesman Phil Singer. ''He's
a far cry from the John Edwards of 2004 who rose to
prominence by decrying personal attacks against other
New Hampshire Monday, Edwards repeatedly referred to the
importance of integrity in the presidential race. In a
speech at St. Anselm College that was billed as
setting the theme for the next two months of the
campaign, Edwards suggested donations from lobbyists would
turn a Clinton presidency into ''a Democratic version of the
Republican corruption machine.''
up a town hall in Exeter, N.H., by arguing that the
state's voters have a special responsibility to repair
damage done by the Bush presidency and elect a leader
they can look in the eye and trust, regardless of
their policy positions.
''You're in a
position to understand and evaluate the honesty, the
sincerity and the integrity of the presidential
candidates,'' he said. ''All of this other stuff
becomes unimportant if you don't have a president that
you believe will tell you the truth even when it's hard,
and a president who is honest and sincere and that you can
count on. I don't know about you, but I'm not
interested in having the next great politician as
Edwards has been
focusing his criticism almost entirely on Clinton,
ignoring the threat from opponent Barack Obama even though
all three are within striking distance of each other
in polls of Iowa caucus-goers.
Edwards said that
is because he and Obama often are on the same page,
although they disagree on some matters.
''For the most
part, I think we're most closer in our views and
perspectives,'' Edwards said. (Nedra Pickler, AP)