Edwards needles Clinton at forum

Published February 22, 2007

CARSON CITY, Nev. - It took less than an hour of the first all-candidates forum of the 2008 presidential campaign for John Edwards to lob the first stone.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq is "between her and her conscience," he said Wednesday at the session where Democrats each stressed their determination to end the conflict.

"It's not for me to judge," added the former North Carolina senator, who - like Clinton - voted in 2002 to authorize the use of military force to topple Saddam Hussein, but unlike her, has since apologized for his vote.

The Nevada event format did not permit Clinton to respond to Edwards' swipe, which stood out on an afternoon in which Democrats launched serial attacks on President Bush's war policies.

"The worst we can do is tear each other down," said New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who called on his Democratic rivals to sign a pledge to avoid negative campaigning and concentrate their energy on taking the White House away from the Republicans next year.

Among Democratic presidential contenders, only Illinois Sen. Barack Obama skipped the event, which was hosted by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union.

The convergence of so many candidates underscored Nevada's newfound importance in the 2008 nominating campaign. The state will hold caucuses on Jan. 19, five days after the lead-off Iowa caucuses and presumably only a few days before New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary.

In their time on stage, several of the candidates made an explicit pitch for the votes of union members, stressing their backing for legislation designed to make it easier to join unions, for example.

Edwards, Clinton and others drew cheers when they voiced support for universal health coverage, and Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio vowed to pull the United States out of the North American Free Trade Agreement soon after taking office in the White House.

But the Iraq war overshadowed all else at the two-hour event. Democrat after Democrat vied to show eagerness to end U.S. participation in a conflict that has resulted in the deaths of more than 3,100 U.S. troops.

The program called for each contender to make brief opening comments, then field three questions from moderator George Stephanopoulos, an ABC News broadcaster and former aide in President Bill Clinton's White House.