Candidates jump on 'change' bandwagon

The theme of change that Sen. Barack Obama rode to win the Iowa caucuses was embraced, dissected and debated by his three major Democratic adversaries Saturday night at a live televised forum that's expected to play a critical role the outcome of Tuesday's New Hampshire primary.

The Sunday talk show style forum featured the four leading Democratic candidates for president talking to ABC-TV host Charles Gibson for 90 minutes shortly after a similar forum with the six leading Republican candidates on the campus of St. Anselm College.

"We are all advocating for change," Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton maintained while also going on the attack against Obama, who is tied with her in one New Hampshire poll and closing in on her lead in other daily tracking polls.

In one of the most pointed moments, Clinton was asked if Obama won Iowa because he is more likeable.

"Well that hurts my feelings, but I'll try to go on," Clinton said, downplaying an issue that cut to the heart but was played by her with feigned insult. "I'm very likeable."

"You're likeable enough," Obama injected.

Clinton maintained that the key issue for voters is electing a president "who is ready to be president on Day One," noting that as a result of the election of President Bush in 2000 "we ended up with a president who Americans said they wanted to have a beer with."

Former Sen. John Edwards, who finished a disappointing second in Iowa and is third in all New Hampshire polls, tried to align himself with Obama by declaring they "are both powerful voices for change."

And referring to Clinton without mentioning her by name, he added, "Anytime you speak out forcefully for change... the forces of status quo are going to attack are going to attack."

Former Sen. John Edwards, who finished a disappointing second in Iowa and is third in all New Hampshire polls, tried to align himself with Obama by declaring they "are both powerful voices for change."

And referring to Clinton without mentioning her by name, he added, "Anytime you speak out forcefully for change ... the forces of status quo are going to attack."

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson chastised his Democratic rivals for the type of bickering that turns voters off to Washington politics and asked why "change" has become the key word in the election.

"Whatever happened to experience?" he asked. "Is experience a leper?"

The two televised candidate forums were scheduled back-to-back by New Hampshire's only major network TV affiliate because the front-loaded dates for the presidential selection process left only five days between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.

The four Democrats were invited on stage to join the six leading Republicans at the end of a similar 90-minute GOP forum.

It provided a rare photo opportunity to look at possible GOP-Democratic matchups.

Clinton has been a favorite target of Republicans during their previous debates, but the GOP candidates were asked about their differences with Obama at Saturday's forum.

Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson said Obama has adopted the positions of the most liberal interest groups in the county.

Obama, when asked for his response to the comments by the Republican candidates, drew laughs by admitting that he spent part of his time watching an NFL playoff game.

"I have to admit that I was going back and forth between the Republicans and football," he said. "The Redskins lost."