Video: War with Iran?

By The Political Unit
NBC News
updated 10/24/2007 3:37:18 PM ET 2007-10-24T19:37:18

With barely two months to go before the Iowa caucuses, the seven leading Democratic candidates will be facing off for the 8th time - but as things get closer, every meeting takes on greater importance.

They face off in Philadelphia on Tuesday, October 30th, from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. Moderated by NBC's Brian Williams, the debate will be live on MSNBC and streamed on msnbc.com.

For the candidates chasing the frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, the chances to make a big splash are dwindling - which makes the likelihood of some fireworks very high for this encounter.

As for the specifics of this debate, this will be the first encounter since the issue of Iran popped up. In fact, this debate may answer the following question: “Has Iran overtaken Iraq as the top issue?”

Since the presidential campaign began, one issue has dominated the Democratic contest: Iraq. But that is likely to change at Tuesday night's debate on MSNBC, as the candidates' back-and-forth over the issue of Iran has jumped into the spotlight. It began almost a month ago, when the Senate passed -- by a 76-22 vote -- a non-binding measure designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. Clinton was the sole Democratic presidential candidate to vote for the amendment; Joe Biden and Chris Dodd voted against it; and Barack Obama, who didn't cast a vote because he was campaigning, later said he opposed it.

John Edwards and Obama, in particular, have argued that the amendment could open the door to an attack on Iran -- and, perhaps not surprisingly, have tied Clinton's vote on it with her 2002 Iraq war vote.

"I voted for this war in Iraq, and I was wrong to vote for this war," Edwards said at last month's MSNBC debate, which took place on the very day of the vote. "I accept responsibility for that. Senator Clinton also voted for this war. We learned a different lesson from that. I have no intention of giving George Bush the authority to take the first step on a road to war with Iran."

In addition, Obama recently issued a mailing in Iowa that says, “Barack Obama is the only major candidate for president to oppose both the Iraq war from the very start and the Senate amendment that raises the risk of war with Iran” (Although it's worth noting that he didn't vote against the Iran measure).

Clinton sent her own mailing to Iowa voters, contending that her vote was a vote "for stepped up diplomacy, not military action." She also said in it, "Let me be clear on Iran -- I am opposed to letting President Bush take any military action against that country without full congressional approval. And I see nothing today that would justify giving that approval."

All of Clinton’s challengers believe there’s a big opening here.  Then again, Clinton’s side also believes this is an issue that provides her an opportunity. Anytime she is singled out, it’s helped her campaign, even if the issue was something that wasn’t in line with base Democratic voters.

Clinton's inevitability?
With some recent national polls showing Clinton reaching 50 percent in the Democratic field, leading Obama by as much as 30 percentage points, the issue of her inevitability has become a topic in the race. Key endorsements have jumped on board, but her two main rivals have tried to stop the train from leaving the station.

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"Did I miss something?” Edwards told a crowd in Iowa. “Did we already have the Iowa caucuses? Did we already have the New Hampshire primary?"… Have we decided who the nominee's going to be? Have you decided? Instead of having 'primary mode' or 'general-election mode,' how about we have 'telling-the-truth mode?' "

On The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Obama said, "Hillary is not the first politician in Washington to declare 'Mission Accomplished' a little too soon." Obama then used the same language in an email to supporters titled, "Inevitable?"

Clinton has deflected criticism and the inevitability question with a line she has repeated on the stump lately, "I have been reminded by some of my friends, that when you get to be my age, having so many men pay attention to you is kind of flattering."

She has also tried to tamp down expectations, particularly in Iowa, where she’s locked in a three-way dead heat with Obama and Edwards. Asked in Iowa if she is the front-runner, she flatly said, “No,” per the Des Moines Register, and added, "I'm well aware that no one has voted. No one has caucused. We have a long way to go before that happens."

But then she went on to praise her own “winning campaign” and say, "I'm very pleased, I am doing so well everywhere in the country that I've opened up some real distance between me and the Republican nominees at this point in the campaign, that I have by far the greatest number of endorsements from my colleagues -- they're from red states, big states, small states.”

And the campaign has certainly tried to build an aura of inevitability around the candidate. For one example, the campaign created a supporters' group called Club44, the “44” being an allusion to the number the next president would be. Neither Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Hillary’s husband Bill nor George W. Bush ever referred to themselves as 40, 41, 42 or 43 -- certainly not ahead of time.

In other words, does she think she's inevitable? Nah. Well, maybe a little. 

Time is running out for all of Clinton’s six challengers and the desperation with some of the candidates is likely to come across in spades at this debate. With high-powered moderators Brian Williams and Tim Russert at the helm, viewers should be prepared for a serious and fast-moving affair that will leave the viewer with a better understanding of where these candidates stand and where these candidates disagree.

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