Obama’s ad­vis­ers faulted in re­cent fum­bles

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Brian DeBose

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.

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