Sweet column: At NH debate, GOP filet Obama. Edwards defends Obama as change agent

SHARE Sweet column: At NH debate, GOP filet Obama. Edwards defends Obama as change agent

GOFFSTOWN, N.H. — Back-to-back GOP and Democrat presidential debates Saturday provided a preview of how newly minted Democratic front-runner Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) will be fileted by the GOP if he is the Democratic nominee.

The double-header came as Obama is poised to win the Jan. 8 New Hampshire primary after scoring a decisive victory last week in the Iowa Democratic caucus. A new WMUR poll is showing he is closing the gap with chief rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY.), and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) may end up in third.

The frontunners — former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz), former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani — slammed Obama as either too inexperienced or too liberal or both. They are doing what would be unthinkable by any of Obama’s Democratic rivals: bluntly calling him unqualified to be president practically to his face.

McCain said, “Senator Obama does not have the national security experience and background to lead this nation,” while Giuliani said, “I think the problem Barack Obama would have is, first of all, he’s never run a city, never run a state, never run a business,” and Thompson and Romney slammed him for being a liberal.

Obama, asked about this GOP blitz, swatted the assault aside and said he was barely paying attention, instead keeping an eye on a football game.

He also did not strongly engage Clinton. Clinton signaled on Friday that she would take swings at Obama and she did — but a focus group I was watching on WMUR’s Web site showed that when she took on Obama — on how he switched his one-time position on backing a single payer national health care plan, for example — the graph line showing the support of independents went down.

Independents make up a substantial voting bloc in New Hampshire, and Obama is counting heavily on getting their support with his message of change — also shared by Edwards.

In an interesting move, Edwards came to Obama’s defense after Clinton talked about Obama’s evolving positions on universal health care and mandates since he was a state senator in Illinois, citing a story about Obama’s record Chris Wills, the respected AP’s Springfield statehouse bureau.

Edwards, blocking for Obama said, “Any time you speak out powerfully for change, the forces of status quo attack. That’s exactly what happens.”

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