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Taking aim at his rivals over Iraq

December 19, 2007|Scott Martelle and Maria L. La Ganga | Times Staff Writers

DES MOINES — Struggling to climb into the top tier of Democratic presidential contenders, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson today will begin airing a sharply drawn television ad in Iowa and New Hampshire seeking to steer the campaign debate back to the war in Iraq.

The 30-second spot follows Tuesday's broad foreign policy address by one of the Democratic front-runners, Sen. Barack Obama, who returned to the subject of Iraq after several weeks of relative silence.

In his new ad, Richardson -- who has stagnated in Iowa and New Hampshire polls with less than 10% support -- asks, "Is there a difference between the Democrats in Iraq? There's a big difference." He says he would remove all the troops, whereas the top three Democratic candidates "have repeatedly said they'll leave thousands of troops in Iraq indefinitely."

Richardson is hoping his call for a withdrawal of U.S. troops within a year will help boost him in Iowa's caucuses by winning over antiwar voters supporting others further back in the Democratic field. Under the arcane caucus rules, he could draw supporters of such rivals as Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio if those candidates did not cross the support threshold needed to win delegates Jan. 3.

Although the war remains highly unpopular among Democratic voters, polls show they are equally concerned about the economy and healthcare, which Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina focused on Tuesday.

Richardson's ad is the first spot to end the politeness that has dominated the Democrats' campaign advertising in Iowa. It targets front-runners Clinton, Edwards and Obama, arguing that none has offered deadlines for removing all U.S. troops from Iraq.

Clinton has said that she would not set a timetable for withdrawal and that some troops might need to remain to combat terrorism. Obama has said he would remove combat troops within 16 months, and Edwards has pledged to do so within 20 months, though both said some forces would probably remain to provide security for U.S. government interests.

Richardson has said removing all U.S. forces within one year would compel a political solution.

"We believe that this debate isn't happening right now, and it needs to happen," said David Contarino, Richardson's campaign manager. "The governor is concerned that the media has forgotten about Iraq and so, perhaps, have some of the other candidates in this race. He still believes this is the most important issue."

Obama, during his address calling for a new direction in foreign policy, said he was "running to do more than end a war in Iraq." The senator from Illinois added, "I'm even more interested in ending the mind-set that got us into war." And that mind-set, he said, cannot be laid entirely at President Bush's feet.

"Congress gave him that authority when it voted for a resolution with a simple title: a resolution to authorize the use of United States armed forces against Iraq," said Obama, who was joined in Des Moines by two former Clinton administration foreign policy advisors and a retired Air Force general.

His leading rivals, Clinton and Edwards, voted for the resolution.

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