WEBSTER CITY, Iowa -- "You want to make a good closing argument," Barack Obama is saying Wednesday, explaining why he is sharpening and retooling his stump speech, bolstering his message of change and methodically working to portray Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretive and anything but a change agent.
The Illinois senator is commenting about the tight Democratic race in a Hy-Vee grocery store, his first visit to a food store since he started his presidential run almost a year ago. He shook hands and visited with surprised shoppers, asking them for their caucus vote.
''It actually feels pretty good," he said as he picked a container of cut-up watermelon from a cooler shelf at the grocery store here, paying $12.46 in cash for the fruit and two containers of Christmas cookies at the checkout.
Without mentioning Clinton by name, he gave reporters at an informal session near the produce department the synthesis of his argument: that Clinton is "tried, true, been there, before," he said. "That's the closing argument that's being made. And my notion is, if you want more of the same, then you are going to vote for more of the same.
"If you want change, then you are going to vote for something different, and that's what we represent in this campaign," he said.
With the Jan. 3 Democratic caucus here deadlocked among Obama, Clinton and John Edwards, Obama on Wednesday also started to explicitly appeal to supporters of Joe Biden, Chris Dodd and the other Democrats who will not survive the first round of voting. Under the rules of Iowa caucus voting, supporters of those contenders will get to make a second choice. "We still want to be your second choice," Obama said.
Delivers speech today
The three front-runners are all running as agents of change as many voters remain undecided until the last moment. In a new television spot, Clinton makes this appeal: "We've never needed change more, nor the strength and experience to make it happen."
During a rally in Mason City, at Newman Catholic High School, Obama -- referring to the official start of his bid last February, on the steps of the Old State Capitol in Springfield -- took swipes at Clinton.
Obama, opening a new front, suggested that the two-term Bill Clinton administration left much work undone. When Obama started his campaign in Springfield, he "started tackling problems that George Bush may have made worse but were there long before George Bush ever took office."
"Yes. Think about it. We've been talking about health care reform for decades now,'' returning to Hillary Clinton's failed efforts as first lady.
Though Edwards -- who campaigned in New Hampshire on Wednesday -- is as much a threat to Obama as Clinton -- also stumping in Iowa -- Clinton was in Obama's scope:
"If they've been secretive in the past, they'll be secretive as president. If they haven't been all that strong on lobbyists in the past, doesn't matter what they say in the campaign, they won't be that strong about it when they are president."
Obama said his comments were intended to be positive -- but the Clinton campaign was not buying it.
"While Sen. Clinton makes a strong positive case for why she can best make the change we need, Senator Obama is unfortunately basing his closing argument on negative attacks," said Clinton spokesman Phil Singer.
Obama delivers his revamped speech today in Des Moines, as he hopes to make moot any questions about his experience by pressing the case that he is electable no matter what gaps there are in his resume.
David Axelrod, Obama's senior strategist, said he is not overly concerned about Obama's experience gap, as Obama said in Mason City he felt "vindicated" as he sensed victory in Iowa.
Said Axelrod, "We're here to finish the job."