NASHUA, N.H. — Look out, Sen. Barack Obama — here comes the heat.
Mr. Obama, a first-term senator largely untested by mudslinging, will face intense scrutiny from his rivals, whom he handily defeated in the Iowa presidential caucuses Thursday.
Two new polls released yesterday showed Mr. Obama with large leads heading into first-in-the-nation primary here Tuesday, and one-time Democratic front—runner New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton took some jabs at the Illinois Democrat on the trail yesterday and distributed a mailer questioning Mr. Obama’s record on abortion rights.
The mailer says that seven times when he served in the Illinois state Senate, Mr. Obama declined to take a position on abortion bills, while Mrs. Clinton has been a defender of abortion rights.
During his eight years in the legislature, Mr. Obama cast a number of votes on abortion and received a 100 percent rating from the Illinois Planned Parenthood Council for his support of abortion rights, family-planning services and health insurance coverage for female contraceptives. He voted against requiring medical care for aborted fetuses who survive, a vote that especially riled abortion opponents.
“A woman’s right to choose,” the mailing obtained by the Associated Press says on the front, then flips to the back, “demands a leader who will stand up and protect it.” It’s labeled “Paid for by Hillary Clinton for President.”
Clinton campaign spokesman Phil Singer said the campaign decided to send the abortion mailer piece because “as Senator Obama has said, ‘voting records matter.’ This is a critical issue for New Hampshire voters, and they deserve a straightforward presentation of the facts about both candidates.”
Without using Mr. Obama’s name on the stump, Mrs. Clinton said he has made “a really big mistake” by not covering all Americans with his health care plan, ceding to Republicans that the Democrats can’t defend this proposal and that the party’s nominee “is going to be thrown right into that blaze, the inferno known as the general election.”
Campaign strategists expect increasing attacks on Mr. Obama as the hopefuls battle through here, in Nevada and South Carolina before Super Tuesday on Feb. 5.
“The only way to win is to tear down Obama at this point,” said campaign media strategist Bud Jackson, who is not affiliated with a candidate. “The bottom line is, he is the front—runner, and he’s got a target on his back.”
Donna Brazile, an adviser to then-Vice President Al Gore when he was the Democrats’ 2000 presidential nominee, said voters are getting a chance to see how well the candidates can handle serious pressure.
“Those other candidates have to figure out how to get their game on,” she said. “Obama has game.”
Obama adviser Jim Demers, a veteran state Democratic strategist, warns that attacks will backfire.
“We are four days from the election, and the voters here at this late time are in no mood for attacking,” he said.
Many Iowa voters said in the days leading up to the caucus they were turned off by attacks, even subtle ones, and by negative anti-Obama television ads paid for by advocacy groups not connected to candidates.
A Rasmussen Reports poll released yesterday of New Hampshire voters gave Mr. Obama a 10-point lead over Mrs. Clinton, who finished third in Iowa, while an American Research Group poll gave him a 12-point advantage. Mrs. Clinton, who had a four-point lead in a new Reuters poll, still leads, based on an average of the New Hampshire polls. She and Mr. Obama were tied in a new CNN poll.
Former Sen. John Edwards, the second-place finisher in Iowa, still lags in polls here and also may target his new chief rival. Mr. Edwards previously kept his focus on Mrs. Clinton and is credited with being partially responsible for her tumble in the polls.
Mr. Edwards likes to say Mr. Obama is living in “fantasy land” if he thinks he can negotiate with special interests to make changes to health care and other policies. He told reporters yesterday he is best equipped to take on big companies to effect change because “I don’t think you can nice them to death.”
Mr. Obama dismisses that argument as too confrontational and promises they will be allowed “at the table,” but “they just can’t buy every chair.”
A central theme of Mrs. Clinton’s message has been that she is most prepared to be president, something she kept stressing Friday night at a Democratic fundraiser in Milford.
“The next president will embody the hopes and dreams of all of us, but I also know they can’t be false hopes,” she said. “They have to be ready on Day One to do the tough, difficult job.”
Several times she was cheered by her fans but booed by Obama supporters.
At the same dinner, Mr. Obama said working together is the better plan to get things done, because “there is no shortage of anger in Washington.”
“We don’t need more heat. We need more light,” he said.
• Donald Lambro and Sean Lengell contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire-service reports.