Sunday, February 17, 2008

"Clinton Ups the Ante in Wisconsin" (with video)

Chris Cillizza (WaPo's The Fix) with video:
UPDATE 5:20 p.m. ET: Barack Obama's campaign is showing it will not stand down in the increasingly vituperative ad war with Hillary Rodham Clinton ahead of Wisconsin's primary on Tuesday.
Obama's campaign is now on the Badger State airwaves with an ad that seeks to rebut charges about Obama's record on Social Security and health care made in Clinton's latest spot. Here's the ad.

The key lines? "After 18 debates with two more coming, Hillary says Barack Obama's ducking debates?" asks a narrator quizzically. "It's the same, old politics."

As expected, Obama is using Clinton's contrast ads to reinforce the fundamental message of his campaign: The way in which politics has been conducted ill serves the American public, but his new politics of hope can change things.

Meanwhile, the Clinton campaign is standing firmly behind its own ads in Wisconsin. "This ad accurately notes that Senator Obama chose to run a false attack ad in Wisconsin rather than have a one-on-one debate with Senator Clinton," said Clinton spokesman Blake Zeff.

ORIGINAL POST FROM EARLY SATURDAY: On Thursday we wondered whether Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) would take a more confrontational -- some might even say negative -- tone in the runup to elections in Wisconsin next week and in Ohio and Texas on March 4.

Less than 24 hours later, the Clinton campaign is now on television in Wisconsin with an ad that seems to suggest she is headed in that direction. Here's the ad.

Unlike the first semi-contrast ad Clinton had been running in the state, this new spot expands the contrast between the two candidates far beyond Obama's unwillingness to agree to a debate against the New York Senator in the state.

It hits Obama for "hiding behind false attack ads" -- a classic contrast ad tactic of "he started it" -- before asserting that Obama has a health care plan that would leave 15 million people uncovered, that he "voted to pass billions in Bush giveaways to the oil companies" and that he has expressed an openness to raising the retirement age and cutting benefits to solve the Social Security shortfall.

The tag line: "Why won't Barack Obama debate these differences," asks a narrator as the words appear on screen. "Wisconsin deserves better."

The Obama campaign quickly responded to the new Clinton commercial, holding a conference call with Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle (D) on Friday in which he denounced the ads as "false and negative." Doyle added that it was ridiculous for Clinton to charge that Obama was somehow hiding something from Wisconsin voters since the New York senator had yet to set foot in the state in advance of Tuesday's primary. "[Obama] has been here day after day in community after community," said Doyle.

Even as this new Clinton ad hit the airwaves, however, her campaign launched another purely positive spot that bashes President George W. Bush and touts the New York senator as a fighter for the middle class. Here's that ad.

The fact that the Clinton campaign is "doubletracking" their advertising in Wisconsin reveals a few things. First of all, the campaign's financial situation has to have improved considerably since two different flights of ads -- even in a state like Wisconsin -- is a costly endeavor. Second, it's clear that the Clinton campaign recognizes that while it must try to take the bark (or the halo -- choose your symbol) of off Obama, they must also find a way to balance that more negative message with a positive storyline about her. Third, it shows the Clinton campaign is investing serious resources in Wisconsin -- believing that a win (or at least a narrow loss) is possible.

The question before Clinton is whether she will be able to financially keep up this sort of dual messaging on television in far more expensive states like Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania. And, if not, which track does she choose? The positive? The contrast/negative? Or something sort of hybrid?

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