WASHINGTON — The suicide bomb that killed Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto also rocked the U.S. presidential race a week before Iowa kicks off the voting next Thursday.
The attack injected terrorism, national security, foreign policy vision and experience back into the forefront of the campaign after months when domestic issues dominated. That may strengthen those candidates with strong claims to expertise in such matters and undermine those without it, but the voters will decide that.
Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, Joseph Biden and John McCain all stressed that the event underscored their credentials to be commander in chief. Clinton noted that she'd known Bhutto personally for years. McCain and Biden contended that they each had dealt with Pakistan issues for many years and possessed learned insight into the chaotic region. Giuliani, the 9-11 mayor of New York, said the murder showed anew that America must "go on offense" against Islamic terrorism.
Candidates with less experience in foreign affairs weighed in too. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards arranged to confer with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf the day of the blast, and advised him how to proceed with elections and an investigation into the incident. Illinois Sen. Barack Obama tried to keep the focus on his "closing argument" speech about the need for hope and change in America, but he paid tribute to Bhutto as a democratic trailblazer.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister who's campaigned almost exclusively on domestic issues, issued a statement of condolence to Pakistanis and said "my prayers go out to them."
On Friday, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson called for ending U.S. aid to Pakistan and for Musharraf to resign because he's been ineffective in fighting terrorism and promoting democracy.
Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, on CNN, rejected those calls: "I hope that we as candidates out here don't start lobbing these ideas that get plenty of attention but are not very sound. This is a serious matter. It's going to be with us for some time, and we need to be deliberate in our approach to it because we have several interests involved there." Biden said much the same thing on CBS.
JUST A HEADACHE
A week after a severe headache persuaded Giuliani to spend a night in a St. Louis hospital, his personal physician, Dr. Valentin Fuster of New York's Mount Sinai Medical Center, said extensive tests had produced normal results. Some had voiced fears that the incident might signal a return of prostate cancer, but Fuster dismissed the speculation: "It is my medical opinion that Rudy Giuliani is in very good health."
THE FLORIDA CAMPAIGN
While most presidential candidates were crisscrossing Iowa, Giuliani and Huckabee basked in the sunshine of Florida this week, at least part time.
Huckabee started off Wednesday by shooting pheasants in Iowa, but ended the day raking in campaign donations in South Florida. "I'm going to trade my winter coat for Bermuda shorts and sandals," Huckabee joked.
''I wouldn't have been down here two dozen times if Florida wasn't important to us,'' Giuliani said at a news conference Thursday in Fort Lauderdale, according to The Miami Herald. ''Whoever wins in Florida will have an advantage on Feb. 5.'' Two dozen states, including delegate-rich California, New York, New Jersey and Illinois, will vote on that date.
Polls show a tight race between the two for the lead in Florida's primary Jan. 29.
IT'S A DRAWL THING, Y'ALL
Edwards, in New Hampshire on Wednesday, which votes in a primary Jan. 8, said that in addition to all his promises to fight for change, his Southern accent was a big plus for Democrats who wanted a winner.
"The last two Democratic presidents, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, both talk like me," the North Carolinian said.
A FEMALE PRESIDENT? NOT JUST YET
Thompson challenged Iowa voters Wednesday to decide "what man" is needed to be president. "I say the word man advisedly. Now, I've got a daughter that's going to be president someday, I know it, and I am all for a woman president — just not this year, not next year. There is no woman on the horizon that ought to be the president next year, let's all agree on that." He mentioned no names. Hmmmm.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Iowans vote in caucuses Thursday night for Democratic and Republican presidential nominees. The next day, the campaign road show moves to New Hampshire, which holds the first primary the following Tuesday.