Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton heads into tonight's Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas with an opportunity: to try to erase the unflattering image that her chief rivals, and her own mistakes, have helped create.
Yesterday, in an attempt to neutralize one possible threat at the debate, her campaign announced that Mrs. Clinton would not support driver's licenses for illegal immigrants as president. It is the latest formulation of her position, which has shifted since it became a tripping point in the last televised debate on Oct. 30.
Her advisers say they hope the matter will now be off the table, but Mrs. Clinton's top rivals made clear that they would continue to press the argument they have been making in recent weeks, that she is inconsistent and overly political.
Washington Post -- Rivals planning for Hillary to go on the offensive:
For the past several months, Clinton has hewn to a front-runner's strategy, rarely engaging her challengers directly and instead focusing her attacks on Republicans. The closest she has come to taking on Obama has been to stress her own experience -- drawing attention to his brief tenure in Washington -- and to upbraid rivals for attacking fellow Democrats.
But in recent days, the Clinton team has engaged more seriously in a back-and-forth with rivals. Earlier this week, after Edwards ran an advertisement asserting he would take away the health care of members of Congress if they do not agree to a universal-coverage proposal, Clinton aides sharply criticized him, noting that the president has no such authority. Looking ahead to tonight's debate, Wolfson said, "We expect that our opponents will attack Senator Clinton, and we're prepared for it."
Obama's campaign is preparing for more direct engagement. "I'm sure the computers are whizzing over there. I just don't know what they will spit out," said David Axelrod, Obama's chief strategist. "I heard her say Saturday night that Democrats should not attack Democrats, and I'm sure she'll adhere to that. I'm sure that it has more than a five-day half-life."
Dean of Iowa political journalism David Yepsen:
The Democratic candidates have another of those "high-stakes" presidential debates in Las Vegas tonight. (Are any of these debates "low-stakes" events any more?) It's at 7 p.m. on CNN. Clinton's poor performance in an Oct. 30 debate and her campaign stumbles in the days afterward put her under strong pressures to perform well. She needs to change the negative story lines that have been floating around about her for the last two weeks.