OSKALOOSA, Iowa - Democrat Barack Obama criticized John Edwards on Saturday as an unconvincing populist who passed up chances in the Senate to curb the power of lobbyists and is tolerating presidential campaign tactics that he claims to oppose.
As an example, Obama pointed to a nearly $800,000 advertising campaign being launched for Iowa voters by Alliance for a New America, a labor-affiliated group that is independent of the Edwards campaign but supportive of him. Such ``527'' organizations can raise unlimited amounts of money for ads that frame the debate in ways favorable to a candidate without directly advocating how voters should cast their ballots.
``John said yesterday, he didn't believe in these 527s,'' Obama said. ``You can't say yesterday, you don't believe in it and today three-quarters of a million dollars is being spent for you. You can't just talk the talk. Everybody talks change, but how did they act when it was not convenient, when it's hard?''
Edwards said in response that he didn't know anything about the ad buy and has no say in it.
``The way the law operates is we're not allowed to be involved in this - the campaign's not allowed to be involved, I'm not allowed to be involved,'' Edwards told reporters after a campaign stop Saturday in Lisbon, Iowa. ``I found out about this probably after most of you did through the news media.''
He said after campaigning in Coralville, ``I would prefer that all the 527s - not just this one - that all the 527s stay out of Iowa.''
Several presidential candidates in both parties are benefiting and taking hits from independent groups that are only now beginning to make their presence known in the early contest states of Iowa and New Hampshire. These groups can be more targeted and more negative and can coordinate their activities in ways that candidate campaigns cannot.
Former Edwards advisers Nick Baldick and Jeff Link have been advising labor-backed groups that are putting up hundreds of thousands of dollars in issue ads supportive of Edwards. Obama says these efforts amount to ``huge, unregulated contributions from special interests'' of the kind Edwards talks about bringing under control.
``I've got a track record,'' Obama said of restraining special interests. ``I don't just talk the talk, I walk the walk.''
He said that ``when we actually had a chance to do something about it, I did something and John didn't'' during Edwards' six years as a North Carolina senator.
Edwards attributed the Illinois senator's criticisms to concern about the Iowa race.
``I guess he's seeing the same thing on the ground that we're seeing here, which is why he's started talking about me, which is that we're moving,'' Edwards said.
Opening his latest Iowa swing, Obama coped later in the day with a driving snowstorm that reduced his motorcade to a crawl on treacherous highways. Still, more than 200 people came to a high school in Winterset to hear his pitch, and one sang him a song.
Edwards has generally lagged slightly behind Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in polls of likely Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa, although the three-way race is considered tight.
Obama also gave special emphasis Saturday to trade and its impact on workers, which has been a big part of Edwards' campaign.
On the stump and in new television commercials, Obama called for more training and health coverage for workers whose jobs are shipped overseas.
``We're not going to stop globalization in its track, but what we can do is have a president who's standing up for American farmers and workers,'' Obama told about 300 people in a middle school gymnasium.
Obama also began broadcasting a commercial in Iowa titled ``Enough,'' in which he says he would end tax breaks for companies sending jobs abroad.
``When I'm president we'll give you training before you lose your job if there's a good chance it will get shipped overseas,'' he said. ``We'll give you an education account that you can use to retrain.''