Roughly twelve hours after a second-place finish in the Iowa caucus, Sen. John Edwards' campaign went on the attack against the winner, Sen. Barack Obama, asserting that the Illinois Democrat was once a sellout to corporate interests.
In an appearance on MSNBC, David Bonior, Edwards' campaign manager, ripped into Obama's record on health care from the time when he served in the Illinois State Senate.
"Barack Obama's kind of change is where you sit down and you cut a deal with the corporate world," Bonior said. "If you look at his record in Illinois when he had a major -- sponsored a major health bill that's what he did. He watered down with the help of the corporate lobbyist and they got a weak product out of that."
MSNBC host Joe Scarborough interjected: "Are you saying that Barack Obama is a sellout to corporate interests?"
Bonior responded, "He was four years ago in Illinois. All you have to do is look at the legislation I'm referring to."
The Obama campaign was quick to respond, defending their candidate's credentials both on health care policy and his ability to stand up to lobbyists.
"The reason Barack Obama won such a commanding victory in Iowa is because Americans of all parties are hungry for a leader who can bring people together to take on the special interests," said spokesman Ben Labolt in an email to the Huffington Post. "That's how Barack Obama actually took on lobbyists and won in Illinois, and that's how he expanded health care to 150,000 Illinois children and parents."
Bonior's attack reflects somewhat of a strategic shift for the Edwards campaign, which following Thursday night's results in Iowa is pining hard to make the Democratic primary a two-person race with Obama. Over the past few weeks, Edwards himself has saved most of his campaign vitriol for Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, criticizing her as the candidate of corporate and entrenched Washington interest. When Edwards did attack Obama on the issue of health care, it tended to be about specific policy differences between their plans.
But with Obama now taking over the mantle of ordained Democratic frontrunner, Edwards' campaign has clearly sharpened its spears. And it is not alone. After coming in third in Iowa, Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign has hinted that it too is going to ramp up a more aggressive, attack-oriented campaign against Obama.
The health care legislation that Bonior singled out has already been a topic of much coverage. The legislation, which Obama helped shepherd through the Illinois State Senate in 2003, helped expand coverage to 70,000 children and 84,000 adults, according to Labolt. It also expanded and made permanent Illinois' KidCare program, raising the eligibility from 185 percent to 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
But as the Boston Globe reported on September 23, 2007, in the process of crafting the legislation, Obama consulted with "insurers and their lobbyists" and amended the bill "more to their liking."
"The wrangling over the healthcare measure, which narrowly passed and became law in 2004, illustrates how Obama, during his eight years in the Illinois Senate, was able to shepherd major legislation by negotiating competing interests in Springfield, the state capital," the Globe reported. "But it also shows how Obama's own experience in lawmaking involved dealings with the kinds of lobbyists and special interests he now demonizes on the campaign trail."
On the campaign trail Edwards has railed against the disproportionate influence corporations and lobbyists have had on the formulation of health care policy. In a recent television ad, he blamed the lack of universal health care in the United States on "drug companies, insurance companies and their lobbyists in Washington, D.C."
Just one year ago, however, he sang a slightly different tune. Asked in an interview with the progressive website MyDD if he would bring both corporations and labor to the table in an effort to formulate health care policy, Edwards declared:
"I think you try to bring everybody to the table. You want their participation, you want to make the system work for everybody. I think there's a difference between a healthcare plan that builds on the existing system but deals with some of its deficiencies and problems as opposed to a complete new way of doing healthcare in America. The latter will engender huge opposition. And it will engender a lot of just plain political opposition. If on the other hand you're taking the system that exists, dealing with the problems with it, making sure everybody gets covered, it's just much more likely to be achievable."