Donald Lambro

"If you are in Congress and you know this war is going in the wrong direction, it is no longer enough to study your options," he said. While Edwards did not mention Clinton by name, it was clear whom he had in mind -- drawing a tart response from Clinton's chief spokesman, Howard Wolfson, who called the criticism "unfortunate."

The second missile lobbed in Clinton's direction came two days later when Obama, who won his Senate seat two years ago by opposing the war, declared his own presidential ambitions in an Internet video speech that reiterated his anti-war posture. "We're still mired in a tragic and costly war that should never have been waged," he said.

Obama supporters have told me he will make his opposition to the war a pivotal issue in his campaign if he decides, as expected, to declare his candidacy next month. He underscored his anti-war credentials last week in a Senate address that excoriated Bush's handling of the war, offering legislation to cap troop levels, as Clinton proposed, but also going much further than that by calling for "a gradual and substantial reduction in U.S. forces" in Iraq, beginning in the next three to four months.

If all this sounds like deja vu all over again, it is. By ratcheting up the war issue, Edwards and Obama are using a page out of former Vermont governor Howard Dean's campaign playbook in 2003 when his opposition to the war propelled him to the front of the pack for the presidential nomination, only to see his bid collapse in the Iowa caucuses after a series of gaffes.

"Dean almost won the nomination when the war was more popular. Now when it is more unpopular than ever, it will mean even bigger benefits" for Edwards and Obama's efforts to stop Clinton, said Democratic campaign strategist David Sirota.

"Anti-war feeling was especially intense in Iowa and New Hampshire back then, but it is going to be even more intense now with the escalation of the war," he said.

That may explain why Clinton is running a distant fourth in Iowa, where Edwards is the front-runner, and why she is virtually tied with Obama in New Hampshire.

"Getting caught between Barack and Edwards, that's a very uncomfortable position (for Clinton) to be in. Her position on Iraq is going to make things difficult for her," Tully said.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.