New campaign advertisements Monday painted Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton as warm and loving, but her surging White House rival Barack Obama countered by raising fresh doubts about her character.
In tear-jerking videos, Clinton's friends and constituents described her in moving terms in an attempt to highlight the humanity of a woman viewed by critics as brittle and cold.
It was a change of tack for Clinton, swapping the policy-clogged events and attacks on Obama of recent weeks in Iowa, as both sprinted towards the state's January 3 caucuses, the first tightly contested clash of the primary nominating season.
The pace-setting Democrats dueled at a distance Monday, and Obama, Clinton's top rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, kept up his attack, accusing her of lacking the candor desired in a president.
The new tone followed one of the most bruising weeks of the campaign, in which Clinton's camp has been accused of trying to smear Obama, after he chased her down in the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire.
First signs of a soft focus came last week, when Clinton's 88-year-old mother Dorothy Rodham and daughter Chelsea appeared with her on the campaign trail.
In an accompanying ad, Rodham said of her daughter: "what I would like people to know about Hillary is what a good person she is."
On Monday, Clinton's campaign debuted a new website, "theHillaryiknow.com," featuring short films apparently designed to soften the former first lady's image.
One man, Joe Ward, looks straight into the camera, and tells how Clinton helped him when he couldn't afford the 400,000 dollar cost of bone marrow treatment for his 13-year-old son Joe.
"How do you thank someone for saving your child's life?" sobs Ward.
"It's the human aspect that she showed us, it wasn't the politician," he said, in a quote summing up the aim of the new ads.
Clinton's supporters say that despite her status as one of the world's most famous women, few people have any idea of her true character, arguing she has been sullied by years in the political crossfire.
In another ad, Shannon Mallozzi told how Clinton helped her through the trauma of finding out her young daughter had an incurable brain disease.
"'You are not one mother, I'm a mother too and I want to help you,'" Mallozzi, who joined Clinton on the campaign trail in Iowa Monday, quoted her as saying.
Obama hit back at Clinton with his own new advertisement in Iowa on Monday, stressing his leadership credentials, and leaving no doubt he was taking a shot at her character.
"His candor is refreshing;" "His scrupulous honesty is far more presidential than the dodging of other candidates," a narrator says, in a script pieced together from newspaper and magazine assessments of Obama.
"For Barack Obama, it's not politics as usual. It's change we can believe in."
Clinton had earlier attempted to turn around her misfiring campaign, just 17 days before the caucuses, trumpeting her weekend endorsement by the Des Moines Register newspaper.
In a break from an intense helicopter tour of Iowa, the New York senator blitzed six morning television talk shows, brandishing her credentials as a reformer, as her campaign tried to portray Obama as a risky 2008 choice.
"Campaigns are like life, some days are perfect, some days aren't," the former first lady said on NBC, after a rocky month on the campaign trail.
But "I am a proven leader," Clinton argued, days after her husband, ex-president Bill Clinton, warned an Obama presidency would represent a big risk, owing to his alleged lack of experience in top-level politics.
Most opinion surveys in key states show Obama rising, and Clinton sliding, suggesting the first-term Illinois senator may be peaking at the right time.
Despite the race tightening in key state races, Clinton still holds a wide lead in nationwide polls of the Democratic field.
The Register said Clinton's "readiness to lead" set her apart from a "constellation of possible stars" in the Democratic party, especially Obama, who it said had the potential to be a fine president.
"When Obama speaks before a crowd, he can be more inspirational than Clinton. Yet, with his relative inexperience, it's hard to feel as confident he could accomplish the daunting agenda that lies ahead," the paper said.