PELLA, Iowa — Sen. Barack Obama said yesterday he is confident in his ability to be president, harshly criticizing the Bush administration on the Iraq war and domestic policy during the second day of his swing through southeastern Iowa.
Positioning himself as an agent of change, the Illinois Democrat told voters in the key early caucus state that Independence Day was the perfect reminder that the country is craving something different.
"People are desperate for change," he said. "They want to write a new chapter in American history."
Former President Bill Clinton was also in the Hawkeye State, lauding his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, as most qualified to be president because of her time with him in the White House.
The two stumped on the Clinton brand name, but had "Ready for change! Ready to lead!" emblazoned on banners at events in Clear Lake, Waterloo and Cedar Rapids.
"She's proved she could appeal to people who never thought they would vote for her or any other Democrat," Mr. Clinton said.
Mr. Obama, speaking briefly with reporters before a house party here, was asked about the Clintons' theme.
"I'm sure Bill Clinton is going to be campaigning for his wife, and there's nothing wrong with that," he said, adding later: "Change can't just be a slogan. Change has to be something that is demonstrated day to day, on an ongoing basis."
Mr. Obama said he will keep telling voters he is the Democrat to "bring about the change they are looking for" and that he believes he is the candidate who can attract the most Republican and independent voters in a general election.
He got loud applause at stops here and in Oskaloosa when he reminded overflow crowds that he opposed the Iraq war before it began.
"The decision to go to war is not a sport," Mr. Obama told voters crammed into the Smokey Row Coffeehouse in Oskaloosa. "It's the most sober judgment a commander in chief makes."
He stressed that President Bush has put the country in a dangerous position.
"We've got a bunch of challenges that have not been dealt with in years. They've been sitting there festering," he said.
Mr. Obama said that if he becomes president, he would "protect the security of every single American by focusing on the terrorist threat that is actually out there, instead of being distracted by a war that we should not have fought. That's the leadership Americans deserve."
He has been met with a lot of fans during his trip, but few said they have made up their mind about the Jan. 14 caucus.
"The more I hear, the more I like him," said Shannon Depenning, a teacher from Oskaloosa. "He seems down to earth and real."
But Bill Knox, a retiree from Mount Pleasant who went to an Obama house party Tuesday, likes Mrs. Clinton for her assertiveness and her husband.
"Right now, I'm for Hillary," he said. "She's going to have some good counsel when she's there."
The two Democratic front-runners didn't have Iowa to themselves — several other presidential hopefuls stumped here this holiday week. In Clear Lake, Mrs. Clinton crossed paths with former Gov. Mitt Romney, Massachusetts Republican. And Mr. Obama and Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, both greeted voters in Pella.
Mr. Obama, joined by wife Michelle and daughters Malia and Sasha, traveled in an RV, getting a bit of private time to celebrate Malia's ninth birthday.
The children, both in summer dresses and sandals, seemed bored during the political speeches but were all smiles after the event while playing with a puppy in the park across the street. At the next meet-and-greet, the girls jumped on a trampoline in the back yard, and then Mr. Obama led the hundreds gathered in a round of "Happy Birthday" to Malia.
Mrs. Obama stole the show, describing her husband of 14 years as "someone who has always put principles over power."
Calling herself a political cynic, she also said she has tried to talk her husband out of politics and to instead "do something reasonable." She said she supports his presidential bid because "it's not enough that my kids are OK if we can't make the world a better place for all kids."