- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 29, 2007

SAN DIEGO — Over the jeers of some delegates to California Democrats’ state convention yesterday who wanted her to take a tougher stand on Iraq, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said America doesn’t know “half the damage” President Bush and his administration have done.

Hours later, Sen. Barack Obama, Mrs. Clinton’s closest rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, had the crowd chanting in support as he promised to force an end to the war.

For the more than 2,000 delegates here in San Diego, the Iraq war remains the critical issue and a key dividing line as they size up their choices for 2008.

Mrs. Clinton, who repeatedly has blamed the president for misleading her into voting in 2002 for the resolution that authorized the war, said this week’s four-year anniversary of Mr. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech on the USS Abraham Lincoln is a reminder of “one of the darkest blots” on American leadership.

“The only mission he accomplished was the re-election of Republicans. He used fear as a tool for political partisan advantage,” the New York Democrat said. “I don’t think we know half of the damage that he and the vice president have done to America.”

She said if the war is still going on in 2009, she will end it as president.

Although her wide-ranging speech was well-received, Mrs. Clinton seemed to falter on Iraq, drawing a tepid response and even some jeers from some at the convention, where T-shirts and banners with anti-war and impeachment slogans abounded.

Even as Mrs. Clinton strode into the room flanked by lines of supporters in campaign T-shirts, one man stood behind the line shouting: “Boo! Get straight on the war.”

“Why should I trust her to end the war then when she could end the war now,” said Linda Wymore, a delegate who had an anti-war sticker on her handbag.

But Mrs. Clinton’s explanation that she was misled did resonate with some Democrats here.

“I don’t believe it was a mistake because she was working on the best information possible,” said Norman Vaughn-Hulbert, of Merced, Calif.

And Peggy Herndon, a delegate from Fremont, Calif., said the war vote is not the deciding factor.

“I think we have to get past that. The majority of people in Congress at the time voted for the war and voted for appropriations,” she said.

Most of the Democratic candidates for president are here for this state’s convention, which gained an even higher profile after California moved its primary up to Feb. 5.

Four years ago, the convention helped elevate Howard Dean and his anti-war message to the top of the party’s presidential contest. This year, the war continues to dominate — something House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, emphasized in her speech by calling it “the biggest ethical issue” facing the country.

Mrs. Clinton’s difficulty in winning over anti-war delegates was underscored when she and Mr. Obama made nearly identical calls to fight Mr. Bush’s expected veto of a bill containing a troop-withdrawal timetable by garnering some Republican votes.

“We have to get more Republicans to stand with us to try to overturn that veto,” Mrs. Clinton said to moderate applause.

But Mr. Obama had the crowd chanting when he said if Mr. Bush vetoes the bill “we will go back and find the 16 votes we need to end this war without him.”

“We will turn up the pressure on all those Republican congressmen and senators who refuse to acknowledge the reality that the American people know so well, and we will get this done,” the Illinois lawmaker said.

Mr. Obama said the war “never should have been authorized and never should have been waged.”

“We knew back then this war was a mistake. We knew back then it was a dangerous diversion from the struggle against terrorists who attacked us,” Mr. Obama said, to a strong applause.

The bloggers at calitics.com, a political Web site covering the convention, said Mrs. Clinton fell short.

“She didn’t admit she made a mistake, even though she had the perfect opportunity. Really, I’m shocked by what she didn’t say,” one of the bloggers wrote. “Iraq is the issue, and the fact Clinton refuses to acknowledge her mistake is going to dog her through the race.”

Later in the afternoon, two other presidential aspirants — Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio Democrat — also spoke.

“I remember a time when we ended wars, not started them,” Mr. Dodd said.

Speaking about education, Mr. Obama called for moving “past the slow decay of indifference that says some schools can’t be fixed and some kids just can’t learn,” which sounded similar to Mr. Bush’s education call to end the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”

Mrs. Clinton also made a pitch for homosexual rights, calling for leaders that “treat all Americans with dignity and equality, no matter who you are and who you love.”

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