DES MOINES, Iowa, Nov 20 (Reuters) Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama sparred over who has the most experience to be president and Clinton attacked Republican rivals as offering ''more of the same'' as President George W Bush.
As Americans prepared to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday with traditional turkey feasts, candidates from both parties were trying to build support, largely concentrating on Iowa and New Hampshire.
Iowa on January 3 will hold the first of the state-by-state contests to determine which Democrat and Republican will face off in the November 4, 2008, election.
Clinton, while leading national polls comfortably over Democratic rivals Obama and John Edwards, is locked in a neck-and-neck battle with them in Iowa and she used a campaign speech in Knoxville, Iowa, to try to set herself apart.
Without mentioning the other Democrats by name, Clinton suggested Obama and Edwards lacked the experience to take on America's economic challenges, saying ''we can't afford on-the-job training for our next president.'' ''We need a president who understands the magnitude and complexity of the challenges we face, and has the strength and experience to address them from Day One,'' she said.
Obama dismissed Clinton's comments at a news conference in Fort Dodge, Iowa, and he questioned Clinton's experience. She was the wife of President Bill Clinton in the 1990s and has been a New York senator for nearly seven years.
''I am happy to compare my experiences to hers when it comes to the economy. My understanding is that she wasn't treasury secretary in the Clinton administration,'' Obama said. ''I don't know exactly what experiences she's claiming.'' At a time when rising gasoline prices and a mortgage loan crisis have rattled markets and raised concerns about a recession, Clinton said Republican candidates would continue Bush's economic policies.
''What is truly amazing ... is that the Republican candidates for president are determined to continue these failed policies. In fact, we can describe their approach to the economy in four simple words: More of the same,'' she said.
REPUBLICANS FIRE BACK Republican candidates have directed fire at Clinton daily, hoping to generate enthusiasm among the Republican faithful.
The campaign of a leading Republican candidate, former Massachusetts Gov Mitt Romney, fired back sharply, saying it is she who lacks the experience to be president.
''Sen. Clinton has shown us time and time again that she is more interested in political posturing than any core principle,'' said Romney spokesman Kevin Madden.
Danny Diaz, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said: ''Hillary Clinton should finish the debate with herself on key issues confronting the nation before she tries to take on any of the Republican candidates.'' Romney, victim of a negative opinion polling tactic last week that sought to raise voter doubts about him because he is a member of the Mormon religion, began airing a new television ad in New Hampshire focused on his tight-knit family ''It's just essential to have a home where faith, where love of country, where determination, where all of these features that are so much a part of America's culture are tied to our kids,'' Romney says in the ad.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, leading national polls for his party's presidential nomination but anxious to make up ground on Romney in Iowa and New Hampshire, vowed better control of the porous US border with Mexico on a visit to the border town of McAllen, Texas.
Illegal immigration is a central issue for Republican voters, particularly in Iowa and elsewhere in the Midwest.
Edwards tried to use some rock star power in Iowa, making a pre-holiday jaunt through the state with singers Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne.
Republican Sen John McCain, hoping New Hampshire voters will consider his national security credentials, picked up the endorsement of former New Jersey Gov Thomas Kean. Kean was co-chairman of the bipartisan commission that investigated the September 11 attacks.
REUTERS DKS RN0500