DES MOINES, Iowa Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton questioned rival Barack Obama's political courage on Monday, accusing him of dodging difficult fights and ducking the Senate's recent vote on a resolution to get tough on Iran.
Ratcheting up her attacks one day after a newspaper poll showed Obama moving narrowly ahead in the state, Clinton said Obama voted "present" in the Illinois state senate on seven abortion-related issues and twice on issues of gun violence, rather than take a stand.
"A president can't dodge the big fights, can't find political cover, or have words speak louder than actions," she said at a campaign stop in Clear Lake, Iowa.
"I've heard a lot of talk about turning the page," she said, using one of Obama's slogans, "but what about the action to back it up?"
Clinton also ridiculed his criticism of her Senate vote to label an Iranian military unit a terrorist group, which Obama has called a way to clear the path for a rush to war on Iran. Clinton, a New York senator, noted Obama did not return from the campaign trail to cast a vote on the resolution.
"He decided to play politics and claim that the vote he missed, a vote for diplomacy, was really a vote for war," she said. "Well if he really thought it was a rush to war, why did he rush to campaign and miss the vote?"
In response, the Obama camp touted his successful record of leadership in the Illinois legislature and as a U.S. senator from Illinois and fired back at Clinton.
"The truth is Barack Obama doesn't need lectures in political courage from someone who followed George Bush to war in Iraq, gave him the benefit of the doubt on Iran, supported NAFTA and opposed ethanol until she decided to run for president," Obama spokesman Bill Burton said.
The increasingly bitter exchanges between the two candidates underscored the tightness of the race in Iowa a month before it kicks off the state-by-state battle to pick candidates for the November 2008 general election.
Clinton, who leads in national polls, Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards are locked in a tight three-way battle in Iowa that could propel or deflate their candidacies.
A Des Moines Register poll on Sunday gave Obama a slight lead over Clinton, but a Pew Research Center-AP poll on Monday gave Clinton a slight lead on Obama.
Obama and Edwards have criticized Clinton's vote on the Iranian resolution for backing President George W. Bush and providing a potential pretext for war. Clinton says the vote was designed to encourage diplomacy on Iran's nuclear weapons program.
The issue was cast in a new light when a new U.S. intelligence report said Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, contradicting the Bush administration's repeated assertions that Tehran was intent on developing a bomb.
"The new National Intelligence Estimate shows that George Bush and Dick Cheney's rush to war with Iran is, in fact, a rush to war," Edwards said in a statement.
Clinton had three events in Iowa on Monday and Obama had an afternoon campaign event. Edwards was also in the state, picking up the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley of Iowa.
Most of the Democratic presidential contenders will participate in a radio debate in Des Moines on Tuesday. While some Republicans are looking ahead to other states for their breakthrough victories, all of the Democrats have focused on winning Iowa.
(To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/)
(Editing by Chris Wilson)