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Liberal Iowa Group Endorses Edwards

John Edwards today is touting the endorsement of Caucus for Priorities, the Iowa branch of a nationwide group, Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, that was launched by Ben & Jerry's ice cream co-founder Ben Cohen and lobbies for slashing the Pentagon budget by 15 percent ($60 billion per year) to allow for more spending in areas like health care, education and renewable energy. Edwards hopes the nod will help convince liberal Iowa caucus voters that he, not Barack Obama, is their best alternative to Hillary Clinton. The group claims more than 10,000 members in Iowa -- more, it notes, than any union in the state other than the American Federation for State, County and Municipal Employees, which last month endorsed Hillary Clinton.

The group's Iowa director, Peggy Huppert, said in an interview today that it decided on Edwards over Obama because it believed that Edwards would be more aggressive about advancing the group's agenda. They "have the same views ... but how they're approaching it is different. Obama has the hope and reconciliation message of bringing people together, which is very legitimate because that is who he is and what he's comfortable with, it's reflection of his personality. Whereas Edwards is more combative," she said. "As push comes to shove and we move closer to the caucuses we're seeing that emerge more clearly, and we felt what we needed for our issue was the harder edge and combative nature of Sen. Edwards."

The endorsement is hardly a surprise. Obama has built his campaign partly on his early opposition to a war in Iraq that both Edwards and Clinton supported, and he talks about the need for elevating diplomatic solutions alongside military ones. But he has also made clear that he does not believe this is the time for major cuts in defense spending, saying that if anything, the manpower of the Army and Marines may need to be increased to better contend with its many obligations around the globe. At a town hall meeting in Iowa City last month, he reacted with mild annoyance when the first person he called on for a question, a young woman with a child on her lap, turned out to be a member of the Caucus for Priorities asking him about his willingness to adopt the group's agenda.

"You guys have been at every town hall meeting in every state I've been to, and I've answered this question about 50 times," said Obama. He went on to say that as president he would conduct a "thorough audit of all weapons systems" to eliminate programs that are leftovers from the Cold War. But while some of that savings could be geared toward social programs, he noted that there also needed to be increases in funding for the National Guard and veterans' care.

Huppert said today that while the group admired Obama's stance against the war, it decided that Edwards was the "best messenger" for its agenda. "He is willing to speak truth to power. He has the courage and conviction to carry our message forward," she said. Obama, she added, "is just exhibiting a degree of caution that is completely understandable ... about what he can commit to at this time. He is concerned about being held down the road to promises made during a primary campaign."

--Alec MacGillis

By Washington Post editors  |  November 9, 2007; 12:46 PM ET
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