Clinton and Edwards Square Off In Ames

AMES -- The gods of campaign scheduling smiled upon the national political press corps today, as Hillary Clinton and John Edwards each had events in this swing county an hour and a half apart. So the chief political correspondents for...well, everywhere, listened to Clinton, got in their rental cars, drove through the campus of Iowa State University, illegally parked, and then heard John Edwards's pitch.

The two events could not have been more different in tone, style, substance.

For one thing, Clinton's event was much more contained. Tables interposed themselves between the audience and the auditorium; eager volunteers, mostly women, handed out (or tried to hand out) caucus pledge forms. An officious police officer stood watch at the door. Clinton herself was roped off from the crowd. Secret Service agents crowded the perimeter and blockerd some views. Those inside the bubble don't always realize how morale-sapping the presence of intimidating Secret Service agents can be on a crowd.

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Now then -- Clinton spoke in, at times, a whisper-thin voice. Her argument took the tone of a plea, at times. ""I care about change," Clinton said. "I care about actually producing it."

She spoke mostly about what she would do as president (even The Fix couldn't come up with a better headline than "Clinton Goes Specific"), with just a small bit of contrast added. Hillary Clinton does not claim to have saved the world, as her husband Bill's stump speech alleges. But she reminds the crowd, over and over, that she's been in public life for 35 years. She spoke often of America's responsibility to the world.

"It is incumbent on every Iowan to take this process as it's meant to be... It matters if you go the caucuses; the world is watching. A lot of the world is holding its breath. They need a new president too."

The crowd of about 300 people (** The Clinton team tells me there were 600 or so who signed in) -- yes -- many of them women of age -- applauded at every applause line and gave Clinton a hearty ovation at the end. Special guests included Maureen Dowd, who some on the Clinton campaign treat as the grim reaper, but with whom Jay Carson, the campaign's erstwhile spokesman, kept trying to connect.

Over on Lincoln Way, John Edwards, Elizabeth Elizabeth, and Mari Culver held court in front of a larger crowd -- maybe 500 people -- younger, generally, than Clinton's. There was no security to speak of; no one barking at the press to stand here or there, or telling potential caucus voters they can't get to close to Elizabeth.

Edwards spoke for about 20 minutes; he was upbeat, optimistic, used the word "fight" about a dozen times, strayed not that much from his "Marathon for the Middle Class" text and seemed to rouse his crowd more than Clinton roused hers. Stories of Americans who've fallen on hard times are the staple of his speech; I don't recall him mentioning America's role in the world more than once, briefly.

"Why did my parents do it? Why did your parents do it? Why did they work and struggle and sacrifice. Why? They did so that you could have a better life. They did it because they wanted to leave America, this country they love so much, better off than they found it. And that is the great moral test of this generation."

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Tomorrow, I'll post five-minute excerpts of all the candidates' stump speeches so you can hear for yourselves.