Halting Hillary brings together 2008 Democrat
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend” may be the new campaign motto for the two Democratic presidential hopefuls simultaneously working to topple Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The New York Democrat and former first lady is the candidate to beat, so former Sen. John Edwards and Sen. Barack Obama have turned their attention to her, using different styles to drag down her poll numbers.
It’s not clear which of the two men would gain the most from a hypothetical Clinton collapse, but for now, they’re helping each other out.
Already Mrs. Clinton’s commanding lead in national and state polls is shrinking, with at least three polls showing the trend in recent days.
Mr. Edwards is the aggressor — often putting the words “corrupt” and “Clinton” in the same sentence, all the while pushing himself as the candidate of big change.
“The Democratic debate [. . . ] was a defining moment in this election. From my perspective, it is important for the next president [. . . ] to be honest and sincere and trustworthy given what’s happened with Bush over the last seven years. Instead of straight talk, there was a lot of double talk in the debate from Senator Clinton,” Mr. Edwards said.
Mr. Obama is more nuanced, and even used a friendly “Saturday Night Live” venue to push his message — “I’m not going to change who I am” — with the subtext being that this is exactly how Mrs. Clinton operates.
He also tells voters that his record will withstand criticism in a general election.
“When I’m your nominee, my opponent won’t be able to say that I was for the war in Iraq before I was against it or that I supported an extension of the Iraq war into Iran or that I support the Bush-Cheney diplomacy of not talking to leaders we don’t like,” he said Saturday, alluding to Mrs. Clinton without naming her.
“I am not running for this office to fulfill any long-held plans or because I believe it is somehow owed to me,” he added.
Mr. Obama said on Fox News that baby boomer politicians such as Mrs. Clinton “can’t deliver” on change like he can because “they’ve been fighting some of the same fights since the ‘60s, and it makes it very difficult for them to bring the country together to get things done.”
For her part, Mrs. Clinton smiles and jokes about men being obsessed with her candidacy, and her campaign uses the word “attack” when responding to Mr. Obama and Mr. Edwards.
“If they want to use their energy attacking me, that’s their choice,” she told CNN on Nov. 6.
But the 33-point lead that she had over Mr. Obama in a September ABC News poll declined by 10 percentage points. In a poll taken for the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, she had a 36-point lead in the survey days leading up to the debate and a 25-point lead in the days after.
Also, a Rasmussen Reports poll released Nov. 7 showed that her lead in New Hampshire over Mr. Obama has dropped by 13 percentage points from a 23-point advantage in September to a 10-point lead.
Clinton strategist Mark Penn wrote a memo after the debate touting her strong lead in other post-debate polls — her average national lead is 23 points — and slammed Mr. Obama’s and Mr. Edwards’ changing tactics.
“In the wake of stagnant poll numbers, they have formally abandoned the politics of hope in favor of attacks on other Democrats,” Mr. Penn wrote. “Hillary remains strong in the face of these attacks while the other candidates are being viewed in an increasingly negative light.”
But especially in the Iowa caucus, many who are committed to Mr. Obama or Mr. Edwards aren’t listing Mrs. Clinton as their second choice. So when they huddle Jan. 3 to caucus for their candidate, those supporters may band together to try to defeat Mrs. Clinton instead of each other. The three Democrats are close in Iowa polls, most of which show Mrs. Clinton leading slightly.
Mrs. Clinton is bringing out her best weapon — former President Bill Clinton, who often tells voters that they won’t hear him say anything bad about any of the Democratic candidates. He began last week at a rally for his wife in Las Vegas, and hit the campaign trail in Iowa on Nov. 8. He also has proved a powerful fundraiser, both at major events and to bring in small gifts from firsttime donors.
The campaign on Nov. 6 released a video showing the winners of a fundraising contest enjoying their prize — watching the last debate with Mr. Clinton. As she is grilled, Mr. Clinton grins at the contest winners and calls her “tough.”
“You notice she hasn’t hit ‘em back. She answers their charges, but she doesn’t hit ‘em back,” he said.
Supporter David Monterosso agreed and conveniently offered the campaign’s argument against Mr. Obama and Mr. Edwards: “She answered every question very directly, couldn’t have been clearer.”
Clare Beaumont of Houston labeled the comments from the other Democrats “attacks.”
The Edwards campaign has surged from those attacks, and aides say they “far exceeded” a $500,000 fundraising goal over a two-week period, with the day after the debate being one of their top cash hauls.
They also pulled together a snappy online video accusing Mrs. Clinton of doublespeak that has been viewed nearly 300,000 times.
Mr. Obama, who last week released a list of Iowa and New Hampshire Republicans who plan to support him in their states’ Democratic contests as part of his electability push, also has generated a wave of attention.
He told the Chicago Tribune recently that if Mrs. Clinton is nominated, “you’re going to basically see a repetition of the 2000 and 2004 elections, in the sense that the country’s divided and both parties will be working at the margins to tip the election just barely in their favor.”
The Clinton campaign reminds voters that negativity only hurts Democrats in a general election. Attacks did not help Richard A. Gephardt, who was an early favorite to win the Iowa Democratic caucus in 2004 but lost steam after attacking Howard Dean.
On the stump, Mr. Obama calls Mrs. Clinton a skilled politician and a friend, but says she is running her campaign from a flawed “textbook” that is “all about winning elections, but says nothing about how to bring the country together to solve problems.”
“As we saw in the debate last week, it encourages vague, calculated answers to suit the politics of the moment, instead of clear, consistent principles about how you would lead America,” he said over the Nov. 3-4 weekend.
Why is everybody always picking on me? Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has become the prime target of her fellow 2008 Democrat candidates.