Nine months into the year and Clinton has increased the lead for the Democratic primary and improved her standing against Republicans. With three months until the first votes are cast, it is now go time and John Edwards is on the attack.
BLITZER: And joining us now, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards. He’s joining us in Columbus, Kentucky.
Senator, we’ll get to your location later in the interview. An interesting story there, but let’s talk about what’s happening in the campaign right now.
You said the other day — and I’m sort of paraphrasing — that Senator Hillary Clinton wants to extend the war, I will end the war.
I want you explain what you mean by that.
JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What I mean is voters in this primary are going to have a choice. I have said I would take all combat troops out of Iraq, end the war, end the combat in Iraq. Senator Clinton has a different view.
She said that she will continue — and I think I’m quoting her now — combat mission in Iraq. And from my perspective, continuing combat missions in Iraq is a continuation of the war. And I want to have very clear differences between myself as the Democratic nominee next fall and the Republican.
They’ll be for continuing the war, I want to end the war. Senator Clinton wants less war, but wants to keep the war going.
BLITZER: And I think what she says — and I could be wrong — but I think she’s suggesting those combat missions she would keep behind would be specifically designed to go after al Qaeda elements that have formed in Iraq.
Would you let al Qaeda have a free rein in Iraq?
EDWARDS: Here’s what I believe. I believe that what you just said is essentially what George Bush says. I mean, George Bush says we’ve got to keep our troops in Iraq, we’ve got to keep combat troops in Iraq. Al Qaeda is operating there, so we have to continue the war and keep out combat troops there.
I think that’s wrong. I think the foundation for the violence in Iraq is the dispute between the Sunni and Shia. And I think America needs over a period of eight or nine months to get its combat troops out of Iraq and shift the responsibility to Sunni and Shia to reach a political solution.
But my difference — and this is a choice for primary voters to make — my difference is I would get all combat troops out of the Iraq. Senator Clinton wants to continue some form of combat missions in Iraq.
BLITZER: And she also says in addition to going after potential al Qaeda sanctuaries, or whatever, she would want to protect the U.S. diplomats, protect the U.S. Embassy, which is a huge — the largest embassy that the United States has in the world. So she would have to keep some troops to protect Americans there.
I assume you would want to keep some troops for that kind of mission?
EDWARDS: That’s correct. I think there’s a difference between having troops there to protect the embassy, for example — and we don’t want it to be the only unprotected embassy in the world. The embassy in Baghdad has to be protected, but there’s a difference between having a protective force there just to protect the embassy and having combat troops there for the purpose of carrying on combat missions.
One I believe is a continuation of the war. Protecting the embassy is not. We’re doing that all over the world.
BLITZER: So on this issue I take it you’re basically in line with what Governor Bill Richardson says. He just wants to pull out all troops as quickly as possible. And that’s that.
I take it you and Governor Richardson agree?
EDWARDS: Well, I have a difference with Senator Clinton. I have a little trouble understanding exactly what Governor Richardson is saying. If he’s saying that he’s going to take all troops out, that’s impossible. We have to — we have to keep at least around a brigade for the purpose of protecting the embassy, and I would do that. But I would not continue combat missions as Senator Clinton is talking about.
My problem here, would Democratic voters see a difference in keeping a brigade of troops to protect the U.S. embassy in a civil war, and in keeping a contingent of troops to protect the embassy and go after the occasional terror cell? Troops on the ground means troops on the ground, right?