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Battle-tested and ready for final exam

Any of them could win in Iowa: Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama or John Edwards among the Democrats; Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee among Republicans. In hundreds of campaign appearances and thousands of television ads, they have tried to build rounded images of themselves and how they would govern. But their campaigns contain several central propositions. Below are some of the primary arguments that the Iowa front-runners are making for themselves.

January 03, 2008|Peter Nicholas

STORY CITY, IOWA — In every campaign speech, Hillary Rodham Clinton lays out a reason why Democratic voters who want to retake the White House should turn to her, not her rivals.

"I will be able to withstand whatever the other side has to throw at us," she said the other day at a rally in Muscatine. "You know, they've been after me for 16 years and, much to their dismay, I'm still here, and I'm not going anywhere."

The argument explains part of her success, measured by a durable lead in national polls.

But it also accounts for the resistance she has faced from voters who recall the dramas of the Clinton White House and have no wish to resurrect the two lead players.

One year into her presidential campaign, Clinton is hoping that voters will see her resilience as a selling point. The first real test of the strategy comes tonight.

In making her case, Clinton gives a selective account of the eight-year White House tenure of her husband, Bill Clinton. She often mentions the budget surpluses logged in the 1990s, a sure-fire applause line. She concedes that she failed to revamp the nation's healthcare system in 1993-94 but takes credit for trying.

She offers no discussion of the administration's scandals and embarrassments. In her shorthand summary, all add up to Republican persecution that left her battle-hardened.

Polite Iowa crowds don't challenge that assertion. The painful parts of the Clinton era are more or less taboo.

But that doesn't mean Clinton is home free. Polling shows that Clinton rates well when it comes to experience. But there are trouble signs. A recent Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg News poll indicated that in Iowa and New Hampshire, Democrats see her rival, Sen. Barack Obama, as more honest, more willing to speak his mind.

Clinton's Democratic rivals have been squeamish about exploiting her White House travails. They've largely treated that period as off limits.

All that may change should Clinton win the Democratic nomination. She'll face a Republican Party prepared to revisit her past and test the claim that she's impervious to attacks -- even after 16 years.

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