Sunday, August 26, 2007

"Obama and Edwards Step Up Attacks on Front-Runner Clinton"

Toiling behind Hillary Rodham Clinton in most national polls, her two main rivals in the 2008 Democratic presidential field, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and former North Carolina senator John Edwards, are increasingly seeking to contrast themselves with the New York senator.
The sharpest attacks are coming from Edwards, who in a speech in Hanover, N.H., on Thursday took several thinly veiled swipes at both Clinton and her husband's administration. Invoking the 1990s controversy over the Clintons' allowing major campaign donors to stay overnight at the White House, Edwards declared, "The Lincoln Bedroom is not for rent."

And although Edwards did not name Clinton in that speech, Obama was more direct at a house party in Portsmouth, N.H., earlier in the week. "This last question I will prompt myself, and that's, 'Why you instead of Hillary?' That's in the back of minds of a lot of people," Obama said, the Associated Press reported.

The candidate went on to describe what he argues is his ability to rise above the kind of divisive politics that has defined the past several years, something he says Clinton cannot do.

"Hillary is the front-runner in this race, and as we get closer and closer to Iowa, that distance looks further and further away," said Jenny Backus, a Democratic strategist.

While the Republican 2008 race has seen twists and turns that have resulted in a virtual unknown at the start of 2007 now leading polls in the early-voting states (former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney) and a presumed front-runner almost out of money (Arizona Sen. John McCain), the Democratic race has in many ways been static for several months. Obama has outraised Clinton, and the three leading candidates remain close in polls in Iowa, but as they prepare to gear up for an intense period of campaigning after Labor Day, Clinton is in the strongest position.

Over the next month, Clinton will introduce her proposal for universal health care, aides say, but continue to emphasize her theme of experience. And while Obama is vacationing and attending a fundraiser in Martha's Vineyard this week, he and his advisers are also developing new language for speeches and policy proposals on health care and other issues he will unveil after Labor Day. Edwards, meanwhile, offered a new theme on Thursday, castigating Washington politics as a "game" not focused on fixing important problems.

"He's going to continue to talk about that," said Jonathan Prince, Edwards's deputy campaign manager.

In distinguishing themselves from the front-runner, Obama and Edwards are portraying Clinton as yesterday's news. Democrats looking for a restoration of the 1990s have aspirations that were "rooted in nostalgia," Edwards said, while Obama says he's part of a new generation that will change politics.

Obama describes his differences with Clinton in terms of an ability to get things done, telling The Washington Post in a recent interview, "I believe I can bring the country together in a way she cannot do," while Edwards, in his speech Thursday, suggested he would lead the country in a more progressive direction. "We cannot replace a group of corporate Republicans with a group of corporate Democrats," he said.

Despite his rather explicit statements, Edwards said at a news conference on Friday, "Nothing I said yesterday had anything to do with other presidential candidates." And Obama aides say their candidate, while working to distinguish himself from Clinton, is also trying to address questions about his own candidacy. In recent weeks, the Illinois senator has argued that being black will help, not hurt, his prospects in the general election because he will inspire more blacks to vote and that any questions about his ability to take on a Republican would be answered if he won the Democratic nomination. "Let me tell you, if I beat the Clintons, folks aren't going to ask whether I'm tough enough," he said in New Hampshire.

To be sure, Clinton and her campaign are remaining aggressive, criticizing Obama for a series of foreign policy statements he has made over the past month, in an effort to portray him as inexperienced. And while Obama and Edwards have suggested they would make strong general election candidates, Clinton argues that voters already know everything about her, and with another candidate any negatives "will be fresh information," she said in New Hampshire last week.

In combating Clinton's claims of experience, Obama continues to remind voters of his 2002 stance against the Iraq war, while both Clinton and Edwards voted to authorize it. Obama, responding to attacks from Clinton, said that "the people who have been criticizing me over the past two weeks are the people who engineered what is the biggest foreign policy fiasco in a generation." On the other hand, Edwards is suggesting Clinton's experience is not what Democrats want.

"Those wedded to the policies of the '70s, '80s, or '90s are wedded to the past -- ideas and policies that are tired, shopworn and obsolete," he said. "We will find no answers there."

Clinton's communications director, Howard Wolfson, said in response to Edwards's comments that "angry attacks on other Democrats won't improve Senator Edwards's flagging campaign."

One of the challenges for Edwards and Obama is that the leading Democratic candidates have few major differences on policy, with all supporting changes to the health-care system, withdrawal of troops from Iraq, and more federal efforts to combat global warming.

Clinton is not only well known but well liked by Democrats. A recent Pew poll showed 88 percent of Democrats have "favorable" views of her, and 38 percent "very favorable," both higher numbers than Obama and Edwards scored. "Hard-edged attacks can cut both ways, particularly if you're attacking someone with an 88 percent approval rating among Democrats," said Stephanie Cutter, a Democratic strategist.
Howie P.S.: We should all thank the WaPo for informing us that Hillary is "well-liked" and "in the strongest position," while her main opponents are "toiling." And that "angry Barack" photo is neat.

No comments: