DURHAM, New Hampshire (Reuters) - Democrat John Edwards would like to focus his presidential campaign on change in Washington but Hillary Clinton keeps getting in the way.
In challenging the front-runner, the former North Carolina senator inevitably finds his own political vision becomes secondary to his differences with Clinton, a New York senator and former first lady.
The sustained focus on Clinton seemed to irritate Edwards in an interview with Reuters, and his voice hardened as he faced questions about her rather than his own positions.
“I want to be certain that voters understand that they have a choice,” Edwards said. “I just think there are important choices for voters to make between myself and Senator Clinton.”
Edwards trails in third place, according to the latest Reuters/Zogby poll which showed Clinton with 35 percent and Sen. Barack Obama with 25 percent among Democrats seeking their party nomination for the November 2008 presidential election.
But the contrasts between Edwards and Clinton earned him plaudits for his performance in a Democratic candidates’ debate Wednesday in the early-voting state of New Hampshire.
“Edwards has a knack for coming off earnest and high-minded even when he’s knee-capping an opponent,” senior editor Noam Scheiber wrote in The New Republic.
On a Newsweek blog, chief political correspondent Howard Fineman described Edwards, who was the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee in Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s failed 2004 presidential bid, as Clinton’s “most forceful challenger.”
Even Edwards’ decision to change course and accept public financing was delivered on Thursday with Clinton in mind.
“Senator Clinton said she believes public financing is the answer to ending the influence of lobbyists and special interests in Washington,” campaign manager David Bonior said. “If she really believes that, she should join Senator Edwards and seek public financing or she should explain to the American people why she does not mean what she says.”
By accepting public financing, a campaign must abide by spending caps in exchange for federal matching funds. Typically such a move means a candidate’s fund-raising is tepid, and Edwards’ efforts have severely trailed Clinton and Obama.
New figures on where the candidates stand financially are due when the third fiscal quarter ends on Sunday. “We’ve done well,” Edwards said. “... I‘m very happy with it.”
In contrast to Clinton, Edwards has refused to accept money from lobbyists and said as president he would not continue combat missions in Iraq.
“I don’t defend the system in Washington,” he said in the interview. “I don’t think it’s OK to take lobbyists’ money. Senator Clinton does so that’s a clear choice for voters to make.”
The brief interview with Reuters, conducted late on Thursday in a moving campaign van as Edwards mostly gazed out the window, ended the way several have with reporters lately -- the van pulled over on a busy highway and the interviewer got out and ran to a waiting car as traffic whizzed by.
Before it was over, Edwards said he is running for president “to change the country and deal with the issues that affect the country.”
“What needs to be done is to change Washington. The system there can’t be defended,” said Edwards, who made a fortune as a personal injury lawyer before his one term in the U.S. Senate.
Clinton spent eight years in Washington when her husband, Bill Clinton, was U.S. president from 1993 to 2001, and she has served in the U.S. Senate for seven years since.
”My perspective is that if you’ve been in Washington a long time, then you tend to think that everything happens in Washington and the rest of America doesn’t exist,“ Edwards said. ”I think that’s a huge mistake.
“I want to go back and change it.”