Clinton sharpens her attacks on Obama's experience

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DES MOINES, Iowa, Nov 21 (Reuters) Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton has sharpened her attacks on rival Barack Obama's experience, a day after a poll showed her falling slightly behind him in Iowa.

Six weeks before Iowa kicks off the state-by-state battle for the 2008 Democratic nomination, Clinton questioned Obama's claim that living in a foreign country as a youth helped shape his world view and contribute to his experience.

''Voters will judge whether living in a foreign country at the age of 10 prepares one to face the big, complex international challenges the next president will face,'' Clinton said during a campaign stop in Shenandoah, Iowa.

''I think we need a president with more experience than that,'' said Clinton, who has repeatedly touted her own experience as first lady and questioned the readiness for the White House of the first-term senator from Illinois.

Obama said in Iowa on Monday that his four years living in Indonesia as a child contributed to his knowledge of the world and how people live around the globe.

''If you don't understand these cultures then it's very hard for you to make good foreign policy decisions. Foreign policy is all about judgment,'' he said.

Obama's campaign fired back, saying experience was no substitute for judgment and attacking Clinton's votes to authorize military action in Iraq in 2003 and side with President George W Bush recently in labeling an Iranian military unit a terrorist group.

Obama spokesman Bill Burton said Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also spent time in the White House and traveled heavily.

''But along with Hillary Clinton they led us into the worst foreign policy disaster in a generation and are now giving George Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran,'' he said.

It was the second consecutive day the two have exchanged fire on the question of experience, and follows the release of a Washington Post-ABC News poll on Monday showing Obama opening a four-point lead over Clinton in Iowa, within the statistical margin of error.

Former North Carolina Sen John Edwards was four points behind Clinton, setting up a tight three-way race in the January 3 contest in Iowa that will open the campaign to pick nominees for the November 4, 2008, general election.

Clinton leads national polls in the Democratic race, but a loss in Iowa could slow her momentum and puncture the air of inevitability her campaign has tried to promote.

The Edwards camp, accused of mudslinging by Clinton during the last debate, criticized her comments about Obama. Spokesman Chris Kofinis said: ''When it comes to mud, Hillary Clinton says one thing and throws another.'' The New York senator debuted a new television commercial yesterday touting her ability to stand up to Republican attacks.

It opens with shots of anti-Clinton ads from Republican rivals John McCain and Mitt Romney, labeled ''The Republican Attack Machine,'' and end with shots of their faces.

''The same old Republican attack machine is back. Why?'' an announcer asks. ''Maybe it's because they know that there's one candidate with the strength and experience to get us out of Iraq.'' Obama, campaigning in New Hampshire, said knowing the ropes in Washington meant appeasing special interests that block key issues such as health care reform and new energy policies.

''I hear candidates say, 'Elect me because I know how to play the game better in Washington.' We don't need somebody who plays the game better. We need somebody to put an end to the game-playing,'' Obama told several hundred students and residents in Alton, New Hampshire.

REUTERS DKS BST0525

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