WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton's camp tried to convince voters on Friday that she had put a bad two-week stretch behind her and emerged strong from her debate performance in Las Vegas.
The Clinton campaign put together video clips of some of her remarks at the debate showing her fighting back and defending herself against her rivals. The videos were turned into a Web appeal asking for campaign contributions.
"In the November 15 Democratic debate in Las Vegas, when there was the most at stake, Hillary put on her best performance. She was prepared, firm, and 100 percent ready to lead America," said a statement posted on the Web video link, which was available on her campaign's Web site.
Clinton, a New York senator, needed a smooth debate performance to try to tamp down an emerging notion that her air of invincibility had been punctured by a lackluster showing at the last debate on October 30 and a series of other seeming missteps.
In Las Vegas, she shifted from an above-the-fray style to one of attacking her closest challengers, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, accusing Edwards in particular of slinging mud.
Obama and Edwards refused to cede any ground to Clinton despite glowing descriptions of the former first lady's performance from various political experts such as the Des Moines Register's leading political writer David Yepsen, whose column headline was a play on the words of an old Frank Sinatra song: "That's Why the Lady is a Champ."
Clinton, Obama and Edwards are all in a tight race in Iowa, which on January 3 kicks off the state-by-state battles to pick the Democratic and Republican candidates who will face off in the November 4, 2008, election.
A victory in Iowa can generate momentum heading into the next state contest, in New Hampshire, and beyond.
TAXES AND SOCIAL SECURITY
Obama's campaign challenged Clinton's debate answers on questions about how to keep the Social Security retirement benefits system solvent in coming decades.
The Obama camp circulated a letter to Clinton written by an Iowa citizen, Tod Bowman of Maquoketa.
Bowman noted that Obama had clearly stated he would be in favor of raising Social Security taxes for high-income earners. He also said Clinton attacked Obama for the position despite having told him, Bowman, she would consider raising those taxes as well, during an October 7 event in his hometown.
"It just gives the impression that you're not being straight with people about where you stand. And if you won't be straight with us on the campaign trail, how can we be sure you'll be honest with the American people when you're president?" Bowman asked.
The Edwards camp criticized Clinton's debate comments on the North American Free Trade Agreement, the U.S.-Canada-Mexico trade accord that many Americans believe has cost the United States jobs.
Eager for support from union workers, the Edwards campaign criticized Clinton for having "laughed off" a question about NAFTA by saying, "All I can remember from that is a bunch of charts."
Clinton's husband, then-President Bill Clinton, had signed the NAFTA accord when he was in office in the 1990s. She did say that NAFTA "did not do what many had hoped" and that "we do need to figure out how we're going to have trade relations that are smart."
Long-shot Democratic candidate Christopher Dodd, a Connecticut senator, accused all three -- Clinton, Edwards and Obama -- of dodging questions, and singled out Obama in particular for speaking without clarity on whether illegal immigrants should qualify for drivers licenses.
Dodd criticized Clinton for a last-minute shift in her position on the topic, from saying at the last debate it "makes a lot of sense," to being against it once New York state killed a proposal that would have allowed undocumented workers to get drivers licenses.
"Instead of clarity, we've been treated to a procession of flip-flopping, hyper-qualification and answers of convenience," Dodd said.