OELWEIN --- At a campaign stop in Oelwein on Saturday morning, presidential hopeful Barack Obama said the number of candidates in presidential forums should not be pared down.
The Illinois senator's comments come two days after Democratic rivals John Edwards and Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., were overheard discussing the possibility of limiting the number of participants in presidential forums.
"My attitude is the more the merrier," Obama said in an interview. "I don't know how you'd draw the line to say some can participate and some can't, particularly when you know historically, for example, Bill Clinton was at 2 percent in the polls in some of these early contests."
In an exchange captured on camera and open microphone by broadcasters after an NAACP forum in Detroit, Edwards approached Clinton on-stage and whispered in her ear.
"We should try to have a more serious and a smaller group," he said.
"Our guys should talk," Clinton said, contending the format had "trivialized" the discussion.
Edwards later clarified that he didn't want to eliminate anyone from gatherings. Rather, he said he wanted future forums split into two groups of four, chosen randomly, so as to foster better discussion of the issues.
Obama also suggested dispensing with brief answers as a way to bring more substance to debates.
"I'd love to see a change in format where there's a (fuller) debate, instead of a succession of 60-second sound bites."
Hundreds of people came out early on a sunny, breezy Saturday morning to see Obama speak on the shores of Lake Oelwein at the city park. The audience cheered him loudly several times as Obama focused most of his remarks on withdrawing troops from Iraq.
He continued to apply public pressure to members of Iowa's Congressional delegation, including Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, who voted against a phased troop withdrawal earlier this year. In May, Grassley criticized Obama for not acting senatorial after he directly challenged Grassley to change his vote on the issue.
With an intelligence report this week concluding al-Qaida has rebuilt its operating capability to a level not seen since just before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Obama said the military must begin reducing the number of troops in Iraq and turn its attention to al-Qaida strongholds.
"We cannot win a war against the terrorists if we're on the wrong battlefield," he said.
Despite the importance of getting out of Iraq, he said the U.S. must move out judiciously.
Even though Iraq drew the most enthusiastic response from the crowd, many voters, such as Charlene Ortner of Independence, are drawn to Obama because of his message of unity and optimism.
"The thing that I liked is that he said, 'Let's all work together for America. Maybe you won't vote for me, but let's do what we can to make change for the better.'"