MUSCATINE, Iowa -- Ralph Nader unleashed on Hillary Rodham Clinton Monday - criticizing her for being soft on defense spending and a chum of big business - and expressed his strong support for John Edwards.
In an 11th hour effort to encourage liberal Iowans to "recognize" Edwards by "giving him a victory," the activist and former presidential contender said in an interview that Clinton will "pander to corporate interest groups" if elected.
Nader specifically accused Clinton of failing to challenge military spending because "she is a woman who doesn't want to be labeled as soft on defense and she doesn't want to be shown as taking on big business."
As Clinton campaigned through a snowstorm in southeast Iowa, pledging to "bring about the changes we need," Nader accused the Democratic senator from New York of using empty rhetoric.
"[Clinton] has not led the way against the avalanche of military contracting, corporate crime, fraud and abuse," he said. "We want to inform the people of Iowa about Hillary Clinton because all the focus is on, do they have the experience and do they have the personal charisma, and can they cross the aisle" Nader said.
"The issue is corporate power and who controls our political system and it's not who has experience for six years or two years," he said, alluding to an ongoing debate over experience between Clinton and freshman Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).
"She has experience in the Senate, and what that experience has meant is going soft on cracking down on corporate crime, fraud, and abuse, soft on cutting tens of millions in corporate subsidies," he continued.
The Clinton campaign declined to comment on Nader's criticism.
Nader, a four-time presidential candidate, called Edwards a Democratic "glimmer of hope." He has long criticized Democrats as indistinguishable from Republicans, chiding both parties as slaves to corporate financing and interests.
It was Nader who famously - or infamously to many Democrats - siphoned off enough liberal votes from Al Gore in 2000 to hand New Hampshire and Florida, and as a result, the presidency, to George W. Bush. Since 2004, however, Nader has been increasingly controversial within the political left. He was booed at a national conference of progressives earlier this year.
But he remains a popular figure among some liberals. Activists are particularly influential in the Iowa caucuses, if only because participation asks hours of voters' time. Only a small portion of Iowa Democrats caucused in 2004.
Clinton is currently locked in a heated three-way race with Obama and Edwards in Iowa, the first contest of the presidential primaries.
On Monday, Nader also issued a public statement criticizing Clinton as a "corporate Democrat," echoing the exact words Edwards uses to challenge Clinton. Nader said he has watched Edwards from afar and sees his more pugilistic brand of populism as an encouraging sign.
"It's the only time I've heard a Democrat talk that way in a long time," Nader said, acknowledging what was, for him, a rare moment of praise for a Democratic leader.
"Iowa should decide which candidate stands for us," he added. "Edwards is at least highlighting day after day that the issue is who controls our country, big business or the people."
© 2008 Capitol News Company, LLC