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Presidential hopefuls preach to the Democratic faithful

WASHINGTON—Barack Obama brought down the house, John Edwards brought out the sorrow and Hillary Rodham Clinton brought in some hecklers on Friday at the Democratic National Committee's winter meeting.

For the Democratic faithful, it was the first opportunity to hear the top three presidential contenders in a single day.

The DNC winter meeting, which continues Saturday, offers a chance for presidential contenders to try out their stump speeches before a home crowd, measure the reaction and adjust accordingly.

Also speaking Friday were candidates Wesley Clark, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut.

Clinton, a New York senator, pledged that she would end the Iraq war if she became president, and said that if she had been president in 2003, she wouldn't have invaded. Clinton has come under fire from some Democrats for being too supportive of the war.

Raising her voice to drown out hecklers, Clinton said that for now, the only thing that can pass the narrowly divided Senate is the nonbinding resolution it's debating, which criticizes President Bush's decision to send more troops.

"Believe me, I understand the frustration," she said. "If the president hasn't ended the war ... by January 2009, believe me: I will."

The most telling remark may have come not from a senator, but from a panicked young woman who got caught in the crush outside the Washington Hilton ballroom:

"Oh my god, we're between the press and Hillary!"

No one drew the press like Clinton. When she was introduced, photographers rushed the stage like college-age moshers.

Before her speech, a handler passed "Hillary" signs out to the audience. The crowd waved them at applause lines, but not many stood for ovations.

Afterward, fans were jostled out of any hopes for autographs.

The largest audience response came for the man who, at least for now, is the varsity contender with the shoestring organization.

Sen. Barack Obama's promo table outside the ballroom sported nothing but a computer-printed sign with his name on it and a sign-up sheet for volunteers.

But even without the buttons and stickers, fans gave him five roaring standing ovations.

He avoided specifics about health-care plans and foreign policy strategies.

Instead, Obama, an Illinois senator, called on Democrats to dash cynicism and embrace hope as the party continues its quest for the White House.

"We don't have time for this cynicism," he shouted to hollering audience members. "Democrats, this is not a game!"

Edwards, the one-term North Carolina senator and 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee who was the party's new face last time, returned to the stage Friday with his message of responsibility to the poor.

He talked about a hungry 8-year-old girl, a woman on a union picket line, a father with an ill child and a refugee orphan trying to cling to his toddler sister.

"Will you stand up for them?" Edwards asked, his voice rising as the audience stood. "Will you stand up for America? Will you?"

He also reiterated his rhetoric on ending the war, saying, "Silence is a betrayal," and shouting that the country "cannot be satisfied with passing nonbinding resolutions."

"This is not the time for political calculation," Edwards said. "It is the time for political courage."

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(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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