Politics & Government

McClatchy's weekly wrap-up from the campaign trail

WASHINGTON — Highlights from the campaign trail this week:

Thanksgiving brought a brief and no doubt temporary cease-fire in the escalating rhetorical war among the presidential candidates, but in the half-week before the holiday, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama fired some increasingly toxic venom at each other.

Obama threw a fresh scare into the Clinton campaign early in the week, when he leapt ahead of her in an ABC News-Washington Post poll of Iowa voters. Obama had 30 percent to Clinton's 26 percent, with 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards of North Carolina a close third.

What piqued Clinton publicly, though, was when Obama mocked the former first lady's claim that she has international experience. Government junkets to foreign countries, Obama said, are made in a security bubble in which guests eat fancy lunches and watch native dances.

The four years he spent living in Indonesia as a child were more valuable, he said, once again positioning himself as an outsider challenging the candidates of a discredited establishment.

Clinton replied that she's "met with countless world leaders" and knows many of them personally, and she scoffed at Obama's claim. "Now voters will judge whether living in a foreign country at the age of 10 prepares one to face the big, complex international challenges the next president will face," she said. "I think we need a president with more experience than that."

"(Vice President) Dick Cheney and (former Defense Secretary) Don Rumsfeld have spent time in the White House and traveled to many countries as well," Obama spokesman Bill Burton fired back, "but along with Hillary Clinton they led us into the worst foreign-policy disaster in a generation and are now giving George Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran."

Yikes.

EDWARDS WORKS THE CROWDS

One of Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards' best applause lines is when he threatens to take away the health insurance of members of Congress if they don't pass a universal health-care plan by July 1, 2009. The threat is the subject of a TV ad that's airing in Iowa.

At Grinnell College in Iowa this week, Edwards was asked how a president could take away Congress's health insurance.

Edwards said he figured that most Democratic members of Congress would go along with his plan. And as president, he promised to campaign in the congressional districts of Republicans who balked at it.

"I would go to their congressional districts and tell their constituents, this is what their congressman has done," Edwards said.

HUCKABEE GETS A KICK

While the Democrats got tough, Republican contender Mike Huckabee got a tough guy.

Beginning Monday, Iowans could see a 60-second spot with "Walker, Texas Ranger," himself, as actor and martial artist Chuck Norris endorsed the former Arkansas governor.

Huckabee, Norris said, is "a lifelong hunter who will protect our Second Amendment rights."

Yep, Huckabee said. "There is no chin behind Chuck Norris' beard, only another fist."

Then Norris, usually a man of few words, came back: "Mike Huckabee wants to put the IRS out of business."

You go, Chuck. "When Chuck Norris does a push-up," Huckabee said, "he isn't lifting himself up, he's pushing the earth down."

Huckabee picked up some other big, or at least unorthodox, endorsements: Wrestling legend "Nature Boy" Ric Flair came on board Tuesday.

"Like I always say, to be the man, you've got to beat the man and Mike Huckabee is the man. Whoooooooo!" the former 16-time world heavyweight champion said.

Outdoor Life magazine named Huckabee one of "Hunting & Fishing's 25 Most Influential People" because of his conservation activities, and for gentler souls he also announced the backing of motivational speaker Zig Ziglar and author Jerry Jenkins, the owner of the Christian Writers Guild.

IT'S RON PAUL'S YEAR

Huckabee had some competition for campaign fave, however: Texas Rep. Ron Paul got a nod from GQ magazine, which named him "Dark Horse of the Year." He's one of 38 people listed in GQ's "Men of the Year" issue, along with singers Robin Thicke and Rihanna ("Smooth Operators"), New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez ("Hit Man") and "American Idol's" Simon Cowell ("Mastermind").

I LIKE CORN, I REALLY DO . . .

The slip-up of the week came from New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, a supporter of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who told CNN how "I've always, being from New Hampshire, viewed Iowa as a place where they pick corn and New Hampshire as a place where we pick presidents."

Romney quickly told reporters that he didn't agree. "It sounds like a New Hampshire senator to me," he said. "I don't subscribe to his comment."

GIULIANI, ROMNEY AND IMMIGRATION

Back to political issues: Romney and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani battled over who'd be tougher on illegal immigrants.

Romney charged that Giuliani had run a "sanctuary city" in which undocumented aliens were welcome. Giuliani called the charge nonsense and pointed out that while Romney was governor, Massachusetts had as many as six such cities.

Giuliani, Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said, created an "amnesty haven." Giuliani countered that he was tough on all crime, including illegal immigration.

FINALLY . . .

The big news of the week for insiders, and for the New Hampshire hotel and hospitality industry, was that the state finally set a date for its first-in-the-nation primary.

It's Jan. 8, the earliest ever, five days after the Iowa caucuses.

For outsiders, it raised hopes that the whole thing might be over sooner.

NEXT WEEK: After a quick break for Thanksgiving, everyone is expected to return to the trail this weekend, with the big event coming Wednesday. The two-hour CNN-YouTube Republican debate in St. Petersburg, Fla., beginning at 8 p.m. EST, is expected to feature all eight major Republican candidates. It'll be similar to the Democrats' debate last July, with video-generated questions from voters, a device that last time produced a question from someone dressed as a snowman. Romney scoffed at the format, saying: "I think the presidency ought to be held at a higher level than having to answer questions from a snowman."

(Margaret Talev, William Douglas and Matt Stearns of the McClatchy Washington Bureau and Rob Christensen of The (Raleigh) News & Observer contributed to this article.)

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