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Campaign Notebook

McCain warns against leaving Iraq

WASHINGTON -- Republican presidential hopeful John McCain told Christian evangelical supporters of Israel yesterday that withdrawing troops from Iraq now would be "one of the most catastrophic and consequential disasters for this nation."

A strong war supporter, McCain said backing the Democratic-sponsored measure and withdrawing would be to "declare defeat and allow Al Qaeda to obtain victory." Staying and stabilizing Iraq could help ensure the safety of Israel and the Middle East, he said, winning loud applause.

McCain said he is worried that "mismanagement of the conflict after our initial victory" in Iraq has helped strengthen US enemies.

"The Iranians were emboldened, the Syrians were emboldened, the North Koreans were emboldened," McCain said.

Christians United for Israel, led by Texas televangelist John Hagee, was formed a year ago by pastors who believe the Bible instructs Christians to protect Israel. Several thousand members are meeting in Washington this week to lobby Congress.

Despite McCain's sometimes tense relationship with evangelicals, his speech won frequent applause and several standing ovations.

One woman's perspective
WASHINGTON -- Elizabeth Edwards said yesterday that her husband, Democrat John Edwards, would be a better advocate for women as president than his rival Hillary Clinton.

"I think one of the things that make me so completely comfortable with this is that keeping that door open to women is actually more a policy of John's than Hillary's," Edwards said in an interview published in the online magazine Salon. "I'm not convinced she'd be as good an advocate for women. She needs a rationale greater for her campaign than I've heard."

Elizabeth Edwards said she sympathizes with Clinton, who is running to be the first female president. She recalled the challenges she faced early in her career as a female lawyer and said she understands the pressures Clinton must feel.

"Sometimes you feel you have to behave as a man and not talk about women's issues. I'm sympathetic -- she wants to be commander in chief," she said.

A Clinton spokesman said the campaign would have no comment on Elizabeth Edwards's remarks.

Among other things, Mrs. Edwards criticized Clinton for not producing a plan for universal healthcare, calling it a women's issue. She also said Clinton should speak out more about poverty, calling women -- especially single mothers -- the "face of poverty."

John Edwards, who is trailing Clinton and Barack Obama in most polls, has tried to make poverty a signature campaign issue. He's currently in the middle of a three-day, multistate tour of impoverished communities.

The interview wasn't the first time that Elizabeth Edwards has criticized Clinton. In October, she told an audience that her choices in life had made her happier than the New York senator. Edwards later apologized to Clinton, saying she thought her comments had been off the record. (AP)

Dodd rules out VP seat
HARTFORD -- Chris Dodd says he would rather keep his seat as Connecticut's senior senator than accept an offer to become vice president on another contender's ticket.

Dodd, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer in an interview aired yesterday that Vice President Dick Cheney, a Republican, "ruined the job."

On CNN's "The Situation Room," Dodd said he is "not at all" interested in the vice presidency and would rather remain a Connecticut senator, a job he has held since 1981.

"I'm very happy where I am, if that's the choice," Dodd said. "But I think I'm going to do well in this presidential contest over the next 180 days and I anticipate being the nominee."

Dodd has acknowledged that his White House bid could be a long shot as he competes against better known candidates, including Senators Clinton of New York and Obama of Illinois. (AP)

Clinton on healthcare
RICHMOND, Va. -- Hillary Clinton said yesterday that the Bush administration has broken historic partnerships between local governments and the federal government, and she promised to support a range of federal aid to localities.

The Democratic presidential candidate and senator from New York promised about 2,500 elected county officials attending the National Association of Counties annual convention that she and a Democratic Congress would expand the child health insurance program to cover 9 million uninsured children if she wins next year's election. Clinton said county governments have coped with 45 million Americans who have no health coverage and that those Americans have been "invisible to the president for the last 6 1/2 years." (AP)

A vow on abortion rights
WASHINGTON -- Barack Obama said yesterday that it's time for "a different attitude on the Supreme Court" and that he would not allow a return to the days of outlawed abortion.

"We've been there before and we're not going back," Obama said to cheers from abortion rights activists at a Planned Parenthood Action Fund conference.

"There's a lot at stake in this election, especially for our daughters," Obama said as he decried recent Supreme Court rulings on abortion. (AP)