Edwards rejects Clinton 'piling on' charge

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OSKALOOSA, Iowa, Nov 6 (Reuters) Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards rejected complaints from front-runner Hillary Clinton's camp that her male opponents have been piling on attacks against her.

In an interview, Edwards said Clinton was facing the same hard questions as all the other Democratic candidates.

''She's being held to the same standard that the rest of us,'' Edwards said after yesterday an event at a coffee shop in tiny Oskaloosa.

At a debate last week in Philadelphia, Edwards and other Democrats went after Clinton, accusing her of giving evasive answers on illegal immigration and other issues.

After the debate, the Clinton campaign issued a Web video entitled ''the Politics of Piling On,'' that showed her male rivals singling her out for criticism.

Then, in a speech last Thursday, Clinton raised the gender issue by referring to the ''all-boys club of presidential politics.'' She backtracked next day, saying she was under attack not because she is a woman, but because she is ''winning'' the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

''Anyone who seeks to be the leader of the free world, president of the United States of America, deserves to be challenged and asked hard questions,'' Edwards said.

A former senator from North Carolina, Edwards is running third behind New York Sen. Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

He and other Democrats are crisscrossing Iowa this week looking for an edge in the state that on January 3 votes first in the process to choose the Democratic and Republican nominees who will face one another in the November 2008 election.

Edwards, who needs to do well in Iowa to show he has a real shot at the nomination, said he feels the race in the state is ''close to a dead heat'' between him, Clinton and Obama.

He said the fact that it was so close was ''pretty remarkable since they've spent millions of dollars on advertising on television, and I literally ran my first ads just a few days ago. So I feel good about where we are.'' REUTERS MP AS0314

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