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Edwards denies slam on 'insiders' is directed at Clinton

  • Story Highlights
  • Edwards says criticism of "establishment elites" not directed at Sen. Clinton
  • Ex-Sen. Edwards tells voters to reject "answers ... rooted in nostalgia"
  • Edwards' speech viewed as drawing a line between him, Clinton
  • Clinton camp says attacks "won't improve Edwards' campaign"
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By Martina Stewart
CNN Washington Bureau
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Despite widespread media reports that his comments disparaging "establishment elites" and "Washington insiders" were directed at Sen. Hillary Clinton, Democratic presidential nominee John Edwards denied Friday that he meant to slam one of his chief rivals.

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Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards campaigns last weekend in Clinton, Iowa.

"Nothing I said yesterday has anything to do with other presidential candidates," Edwards said.

In a speech Thursday that was billed by the Edwards campaign as an effort to claim the mantle of change in the 2008 Democratic presidential race, Edwards encouraged voters to reject "establishment elites" and "outdated answers ... rooted in nostalgia."

He also said, "The American people deserve to know that their presidency is not for sale, the Lincoln Bedroom is not for rent, and lobbyist money can no longer influence policy in the House or the Senate." Video Watch Edwards speak out against the 'Washington establishment' »

The speech was widely reported as a thinly veiled attack on Clinton, a chief rival for the Democratic presidential nomination and the frontrunner in most national polls.

One political observer thought Edwards was being disingenuous.

"Give me a break," said Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report. "The reality is there's a campaign going on and he's in debates with these guys every week, and he's looking for ways to create a distinction with Clinton and [Illinois Sen. Barack] Obama."

Rothenberg added that "everybody knew what he was saying and who he was taking a shot at" with the Lincoln Bedroom comment.

Following President Bill Clinton's 1996 re-election, Republicans accused him of improperly allowing top campaign donors to spend a night in the White House, arguing the practice amounted to "renting" out the Lincoln Bedroom. On Thursday, Edwards said he would be an ethical steward of the Lincoln Bedroom along with the rest of the White House.

As for Edwards' nostalgia comment, Hillary Clinton often touts the successes of her husband's administration on the campaign trail, as does former President Clinton when he stumps for his wife.

On Thursday, Edwards attacked that sort of reminiscing. "The trouble with nostalgia is that you tend to remember what you liked and forget what you didn't," he said. "It's not just that the answers of the past aren't up to the job today, it's that the system that produced them was corrupt -- and still is."

Former President Clinton is well known for trying to find a "third way" on issues that appealed to members of both political parties. On Thursday, Edwards said "We cannot triangulate our way to real change."

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Although he denied taking potshots at his main Democratic rival, Edwards did not hesitate to target Republican Mitt Romney's new health care reform plan.

"What I'd like for Gov. Romney to do is come here to New Hampshire and explain to the people I just met with why universal health care was good for the state of Massachusetts but it's not good for the people of New Hampshire," Edwards said Friday after meeting with voters at a hospital in Manchester, New Hampshire. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Alexander Mooney and John King contributed to this report.

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