ABC News' Rick Klein and Teddy Davis Report: Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., has launched the first advertisement of the Democratic race to mention rival candidates by name, with a radio spot that escalates a long-running battle with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., over whose healthcare plan would cover the greatest number of people.
The ad, which is airing in Iowa and New Hampshire, quotes media reports that favorably portray Obama’s healthcare plan -- and portray Edwards' and Clinton's plan as ineffective.
"Here's the real difference on health care: Senators Edwards and Clinton favor mandates which the Daily Iowan says would, quote, 'force those who can not afford health insurance to buy it, punishing those who don't fall in line,' " a male announcer says in the ad.
A female announcer then chimes in: "Barack Obama believes the solution isn't making it illegal not to have health care. It's making it affordable."
The ad -- coming on the eve of Thursday's caucuses -- seeks to rebut a central critique of Obama's healthcare plan. Edwards and Clinton have argued that Obama would leave as many as 15 million Americans without health insurance.
The key difference between Obama's plan and those of his rivals is that it does not include a so-called "individual mandate," a requirement that all U.S. citizens obtain health insurance.
"His plan would leave 15 million Americans out," Clinton said at a debate last month in Las Vegas. "I have a universal health care plan that covers everyone."
Countered Obama: "The fact of the matter is that I do provide universal health care."
Some independent experts argue that none of the major candidates' plans are truly universal in the same way that Rep. Dennis Kucinich's, D-Ohio, plan for a single-payer system would guarantee health coverage to all Americans.
But economists generally agree that a plan with an individual mandate -- such as Clinton's or Edwards' -- would cover more of those who are currently uninsured that a plan that lacks such a feature, such as Obama's.
The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees -- a union that has endorsed Clinton -- has funded a mailing that attacks Obama's healthcare plan by quoting Edwards. But unlike Obama’s ad, AFSCME spending is not controlled by any campaign or candidate.
UPDATE: ABC's Sunlen Miller, traveling with the Obama campaign, reports that the ad has been running for approximately 10 days, according to the campaign. Asked why the campaign did not send out a media advisory about the ad, one aide said that there typically is not much media interest in radio advertising -- and kept a straight face.
The campaign did put out a press release for a radio ad in October, to announce Obama's endorsement by Duffy Lyon, the sculptor of the famed "butter cow" at the Iowa State Fair.
Full text of the ad:
MALE ANNCR: Barack Obama's health plan.
FEMALE ANNCR: Here's what the experts say. President Clinton's own Labor Secretary Robert Reich says, quote, I've compared the plans in detail. Obama's plan would ensure more people than the others.” The Pioneer Press confirms Obama guarantees coverage for all Americans.
MALE ANNCR: But here's the real difference on health care. Senators Edwards and Clinton favor mandates which the Daily Iowan says would, quote, "force those who can not afford health insurance to buy it, punishing those who don’t fall in line."
FEMALE ANNCR: Barack Obama believes the solution isn't making it illegal not to have health care. It's making it affordable.
MALE ANNCR: And that's why his plan cuts costs for a typical family by twenty five hundred dollars.
FEMALE ANNCR: As the Concord Monitor says, when it comes to honesty about health care, Obama has the edge. Check the facts, at Iowa dot Barack Obama dot com.
MALE ANNCR: And caucus on January third for change we can believe in.
FEMALE ANNCR: Paid for by Obama for America.
Howie P.S.: I have a different definition of a "negative ad" than ABC News.