Halt­ing Hil­lary brings to­gether 2008 Demo­crat

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Christina Bellantoni

“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.

As­so­ci­ated Press

Why is ev­ery­body al­ways pick­ing on me? Sen. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton has be­come the prime tar­get of her fel­low 2008 Demo­crat can­di­dates.

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