Obama’s advisers faulted in recent fumbles
Sen. Barack Obama, unable to capitalize on the recent poor debate performance of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and accused of mishandling a conser vative columnist’s claims, now is facing criticism about whether he is getting good campaign advice from his team.
Mr. Obama missed an opportunity to strike at Mrs. Clinton after she fumbled a question during a debate last month on whether she supported New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s plan, since withdrawn, to grant driver’s licenses to illegal aliens. Her response yielded her worst week in the presidential-nomination campaign.
But Mr. Obama failed to capitalize on her bobble, and found himself tripped up by the same question at the recent debate in Las Vegas.
“It looks like the pressure is on, and it shows,” said Morris Reid, managing director of Westin Rinehart, a political strategy group.
And some campaign observers said the Illinois Democrat is looking like a true novice as he tries to find his niche in the Democratic primary field.
“The bottom line is, time is running out for Barack Obama, and he realizes the only way he can win this thing is to knock off Hillar y Clinton,” said Costas Panagopoulos, assistant professor of political science at Fordham University.
Mr. Obama most recently got drawn into a verbal brawl with the Clinton campaign by responding to conservative journalist Robert Novak, who wrote Nov. 17 in his syndicated column that Clinton campaign operatives have told other Democrats that they have “scandalous” information about Mr. Obama, but have decided not to use it.
Usually such a column wouldn’t get the slightest attention from a campaign. But the Obama campaign, looking for an avenue of attack against Mrs. Clinton, responded twice.
Obama campaign manager David Plouffe asked: “Are ‘agents’ of their campaign spreading these rumors? And do they have ‘scandalous’ information that they are not releasing? Yes or no?”
Then Mr. Obama himself chal- lenged the Clinton campaign.
“Senator Clinton should either make public any and all infor mation referred to in the item, or concede the truth: that there is none. She of all people, having complained so often about the ‘politics of personal destr uction,’ should move quickly to either stand by or renounce these tactics.”
Mrs. Clinton’s campaign denied having either the “scandalous” information or any knowledge of such, and spokesman Jay Carson said Mr. Obama was “walking right into a Republican trap.”
Mr. Panagopoulos said that responding to Mr. Novak’s column was “not the wisest strategy” for Mr. Obama, and that by doing so he is raising awareness of a minor item that might not even be true and lending it credibility, which could confuse voters.
“It is creating question marks in the minds of voters about his candidacy unnecessarily, so there is some r isk there,” Mr. Panagopoulos said.
He said that it appears to show desperation, but that there’s still time for Mr. Obama to regroup. He noted that Mr. Obama continues to be close to Mrs. Clinton in most state polls, particularly Iowa, where there is a statistical dead heat among himself, Mrs. Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.
But the fact that Mr. Obama is doing the talking and not someone else is a problem, Mr. Reid said.