Sunday, December 30, 2007

Obama's final Iowa arguments

Chris Cillizza's "The Fix" (WaPo):
For much of the last week, Barack Obama has alleged that the series of independent organizations spending money on behalf of his main Democratic rivals in Iowa raise real questions about those candidates' commitment to serious reform of the political process.
Today (Saturday), Obama campaign manager David Plouffe put out a memo arguing that "this unprecedented level of outside spending could impact the outcome in Iowa and New Hampshire, and we believe voters in these states deserve to know exactly how much is being spent, where it's coming from, and who's benefiting."

According to the Obama memo, two pro-John Edwards groups -- the beneficently named Working 4 Working Americans and the Alliance for a New America -- have spent nearly $2.1 million on direct mail, radio and television ads. Three groups promoting Hillary Rodham Clinton's candidacy -- the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the American Federation of Teachers and EMILY's List -- have dropped $2.6 million, including, according to the memo, $309,000 against Obama.

While assuring supporters that the Obama campaign has the "financial and organizational resources to compete aggressively in all four early states and through February 5th," Plouffe adds: "There is no doubt that the size of the spending and its underhanded nature deserve further scrutiny."

Given the amount of time the Obama campaign has spent on highlighting the outside spending on behalf of other groups and the ties that one of these groups has to a former Edwards senior aide (Nick Baldick is advising the Alliance as first reported in the Sunday Fix), they clearly believe this is a winning issue for them.

But is it?

In The Fix's experiences covering campaigns, it is the exception -- not the rule -- that the source of funds for so-called "independent expenditure" ads actually winds up making a difference in a race. The truth of the matter is that average voters simply do not follow elections that closely and much of the back and forth is lost on them -- aided by the complexity of campaign finance laws.

Ask yourself this question: Does the average Iowa voters know what a "527" is? Can they differentiate that from a 501(c)(4)? We're guessing the answer to both questions is no. Do voters have a sense that massive sums of money are being spent on this election in Iowa? Absolutely. Do they know the intricacies of whose spending for whom and why? Probably not.

Obama's campaign clearly believes this presidential race is different. And there is some evidence to suggest they are correct. Because of the amount of money being spent, voters are much more educated about the process than they would typically be if it was a House or Senate race. Poll after poll shows voters are following this election more closely than any one in modern history, and in Iowa in particular voters tend to know far more about the ins and out of a campaign due to their quadrennial role in picking the president.

The final factor that could make the caucuses the exception to the rule, where the Obama and Edwards campaigns' efforts to paint their man as a true reformer who can bring about real change in the status quo, will actually pay off. As the race has entered its final week, Obama and Edwards have battled hard for the mantle of reform, and Obama sees the outside money being spent on Edwards's behalf as a way to tip undecided voters his way.

It's a major gamble, however, to spend precious time in the few remaining days of the campaign talking about the origins of campaign cash -- a topic that usually glazes over the eyes of the average voter.
Obama and his campaign team have proved us wrong before and, if he winds up on top on Jan. 3, they'll have done it again.
The Swamp (Chicago Tribune's political blog):
Obama questions Edwards' credibility as a populist--KEOKUK, Iowa—In the closing weeks of the campaign, Barack Obama has concentrated more on winning over voters wavering between him and John Edwards. On Saturday, Obama grew more pointed in criticism of Edwards as the Illinois senator argued he is the best-equipped agent of change in rallies in small towns across southeastern Iowa.
Obama suggested that the moderate, sunny campaign Edwards waged unsuccessfully for president four years ago undercuts the credibility of the populist campaign he is now waging as a fighter of moneyed special interests.

“Part of the problem John would have in the general election is that the issues he is taking on now are not the issues or the things that he said four years ago, which always causes problems in general elections,” Obama said at a rally in an elementary school gymnasium in Keokuk, Iowa.

Campaigning in Washington, Iowa, Edwards announced that he would bar anyone who has done lobbying work for a corporation or a foreign government from working in his White House. Edwards spokesman Eric Schultz said the ban would apply for lobbying work going back up to five years.

“We will not replace corporate Republicans with corporate Democrats,” Edwards said.

As part of an ethics plan Obama released earlier in the year, he has proposed more limited restrictions on hiring former lobbyists for his White House. Obama has said he would ban White House staff who have lobbied in the prior two years from doing work on regulations or contracts relating to the industries they had represented.

Obama spokesman Bill Burton derided Edwards’ proposal as a last-minute ploy in a statement e-mailed to reporters.

“Early in this campaign, Barack Obama introduced the furthest-reaching lobbying reform proposal of any candidate in this race, and we appreciate that John Edwards is now following his lead," Burton said.
"The truth is, in his six years as a U.S. Senator, John Edwards did not propose or accomplish a single thing to reduce the power of lobbyists while Barack Obama passed the most sweeping lobbying reform since Watergate."
First Read (MSNBC):
Obama says he's the most electable Democrat--FORT MADISON, IA -- Obama pushed his electability argument a step further at his second stop here today, highlighting Clinton's unfavorable ratings -- while claiming that he could win enough Republican support to create a coalition for governing if he were to win the presidency.

"There's one Democrat who beats every Republican potential opponent, and that's me. I beat Giuliani, I beat McCain, I beat Thompson, I beat Huckabee -- I beat whoever else they are planning to throw at me," he said.

Obama added, "And the reason that I beat them all -- and Hillary doesn't and Edwards doesn't -- is because I get more support from independents and I even get some Republican support, despite the fact that I've got the most progressive track record on many issues of any of the candidates."

Obama went a step further, contrasting his favorability ratings with Hillary Clinton's unfavorable ones nationally and played on the fears of Democrats that the election in 2008 could be a repeat of the one in 2004.

Obama paused before he drew his contrast, conscious of how his words would come off. "We can't win an election with a candidate... Let me say it this way, because I want to be fair…" He went on to say, "We are less likely to win an election that starts off with half the country not wanting to vote for that candidate." And in what seemed to be a dig at Edwards, he said, "We are less likely also to win an election with somebody who had one set of positions four years ago and has almost entirely different positions four years later. We've been through that."

In the most recent national NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, both Obama and Clinton bested their potential GOP rivals, yet Obama did so by larger margins than Clinton did. Clinton also had net-negative favorability rating in the survey.

Making a reference to the attacks leveled against Senator John Kerry in 2004 for being a flip-flopper, Obama added, "It's a problem, and so if you are concerned with electability having somebody who has been consistent, who has opposed the war from the start so the opponent cant say he was for the war just like I was." (Of course, Obama's rivals would likely point to his own changes on issues -- like the death penalty, gun control, and health care -- from the 1990s.)

At his next town hall in Keokuk, Obama appeared more comfortable making clearer distinctions, singling out Edwards and Clinton by name. "Part of the problem John would have in a general election is the issues he's taken on now are not the issues or the things that he said four years ago, which always causes problems in general elections," Obama said of Edwards, referring to his vote for the bankruptcy bill and the trade deal with China.

Regarding Clinton, he said, "And Senator Clinton doesn't beat all five of them because you start off with half of the country not wanting to vote for her."

Though the conventional wisdom in Iowa is that a candidate tries to stay above the fray in the week leading up the caucuses, Obama's willingness to target the other candidates in the race may reflect the incredibly tight race in Iowa and recent polls that show both Edwards and Clinton rising in recent weeks.

A spokesman for a rival campaign said of Obama's attacks, "The Los Angeles Times [poll] was the second in a week to show him sinking to third place in Iowa. Is it mere coincidence that he's going negative or turning up the heat and retooling his stump speech as his numbers began to sink?"

To stress its electability argument, Obama's campaign released a series of poll numbers that showed him leading Republicans in a two-way race in a general election.

But even Obama acknowledged that for a progressive Democrats to win wide margins among conservative Republicans may be a pipe dream. "I understand that there are going to be Republican operatives that don't want to know what I'm going to say. I'm not trying to persuade Rush Limbaugh that I'm going to be a good president; you know I know he's not voting for me. I'm not trying to you know persuade the chief lobbyist for Exxon mobile about why we need to free ourselves from the dependence on foreign oil. He's not going to be persuaded," Obama said.

In talking about the power of hope, Obama also stepped outside of himself to take a look at his own candidacy in which his race could be a handicap if he were to run as the first African-American president.

"I'm a black guy running for president named Barack Obama. I must be hopeful."

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