CARSON CITY, Nev. -- Former Sen. John Edwards jabbed gently at Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday in the first all-candidates forum of the 2008 Democratic presidential campaign, saying her refusal to disavow her 2002 vote on Iraq was "between her and her conscience."
"It’s not for me to judge," said Edwards, who -- like Clinton -- voted in 2002 to authorize the invasion of Iraq, but unlike her, has since apologized for his vote.
The event format did not permit Clinton to respond to Edwards’ swipe, which stood out on an afternoon in which Democrats generally stood clear of criticizing one another and instead launched serial attacks on President Bush’s war policies.
"The worst we can do is tear each other down," said New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who called on his rivals to sign a pledge to avoid negative campaigning and concentrate their energy on taking the White House away from the Republicans next year.
"Sign me up," said Delaware Sen. Joe Biden a few moments later. "No negatives."
Among Democratic presidential contenders, only Illinois Sen. Barack Obama skipped the event, hosted by the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Union. He campaigned in Iowa instead.
The presence of so many candidates underscored Nevada’s newfound importance in the 2008 nominating campaign. The state will hold caucuses on Jan. 19, five days after the lead-off Iowa caucuses and presumably only a few days before New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary.