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Washington's war of words heats up

Two of the nation's highest profile Democrats are now taking aim at the White House, reports NBC's David Gregory.

They are two of the nation's highest profile Democrats, now taking aim at the White House.

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., told a largely African-American audience in New York Monday that Republicans run the House of Representatives like a "plantation" where dissent is squelched.

As for the White House, Clinton said: "We have cronyism, we have incompetence. I predict to you that this administration will go down in history as one of the worst that has ever governed our country."

Her words came just hours after former Vice President Al Gore, in Washington, accused the president of repeatedly breaking the law by authorizing wiretaps on Americans.

"A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government," Gore told an audience at Constitution Hall.

Condemning both attacks at the White House on Tuesday, the president's spokesman singled out Gore.

"If he is going to be the voice of the Democratic Party on national security matters, we welcome it," said Scott McClellan. "We look forward to the discussion."

What's clear is that campaigning for this year's midterm election is under way, with both sides settling into a political strategy.

"Democrats at this stage want to portray an administration that doesn't allow any dissent, that's overreaching and that's basically incompetent," says Marshall Whitman, an analyst who has worked with Democrats and Republicans.

The other theme, say Democratic strategists, is corruption. From wiretapping to tainted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the president and his party no longer play by the rules. But will accusing the president of abuse of power backfire?

Questions about domestic spying have allowed President Bush to emphasize what polls show is his greatest strength — fighting the war on terror.

"They attacked us before, they will attack us again if they can," Bush said on Jan. 1. "And we're going to do everything we can to stop them."

Attack and counterattack — Washington's election-year war of words has begun.