With a little more than a month until the Iowa caucuses, Democratic presidential contender Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., is out to show voters that he can take a punch -- and throw a few, too.
Over the course of a long day on the campaign trail in rural, western Iowa, Obama seemed to relish the chance to mix it up on policy and personalities with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., the national front-runner. The two -- along with former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards -- are locked in a tight, rollicking and increasingly acrimonious race in first-in-the-nation Iowa.
Last week, Clinton -- apparently feeling the heat -- took one of her sharpest jabs yet at Obama, mocking his claim that his childhood years in Indonesia provide him with unique insight into foreign affairs. "Now voters will judge whether living in a foreign country at the age of 10 prepares one to face the big, complex international challenges the next president will face," Clinton said.
Obama fired back in an interview with "Nightline" co-anchor Terry Moran: "You know, we must be doing pretty well in Iowa. She wasn't paying much attention to what I said before then." (CLICK HERE to read the transcript of the interview)
And then, Obama went out of his way to belittle Clinton's experience as first lady.
"I think the fact of the matter is that Sen. Clinton is claiming basically the entire eight years of the Clinton presidency as her own, except for the stuff that didn't work out, in which case she says she has nothing to do with it," Obama said, and added, referring to his relationship with his wife, Michelle, "There is no doubt that Bill Clinton had faith in her and consulted with her on issues, in the same way that I would consult with Michelle, if there were issues," Obama said. "On the other hand, I don't think Michelle would claim that she is the best qualified person to be a United States Senator by virtue of me talking to her on occasion about the work I've done."
With this line of attack, Obama is openly calling Clinton out on one of the basic arguments of her candidacy and her career -- that her experience at Bill Clinton's side in the White House and before, make her the most qualified person in the race.
Obama continues to paint himself as the most "authentic" candidate whose real life experiences distinguish him from his democratic rivals. He claims that his experience living abroad, traveling the world, witnessing poverty and even facing racism as a black man has given him a perspective that some of America's best presidents have also possessed.
"Our most successful presidents have been people who were successful not because of their wealth of Washington experience," Obama said, "but because of the life lessons and schools of hard knocks that they had gone through."
Obama often makes the argument that these "hard knocks," in addition to his outsider status in Washington, give him the unique ability to change U.S. politics. "I think this whole argument about 'He speaks well, he's got good ideas, but he needs more experience,'" Obama said to a crowd gathered in a School in Western Iowa. "What they really mean is I haven't been in Washington long enough. They want to boil all the hope out of me."
He is hammering on the theme that he is the candidate with fresh ideas--the real "change agent" to take on the status quo in Washington.