Monday, April 21, 2008

Clinton's Attacks Backfire as More Party Heavyweights Back Obama

Obama Solidifying His Lead Among Democrats Nationally and Gaining Momentum Among Superdelegates -- and Former Officials of Bill Clinton's Administration; Hillary Still Expected to Win Pennsylvania Primary, But By How Much Is Anybody's Guess

US Democratic presidential candidates Illinois Senator Barack ...
Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama (right) and Hillary Clinton listen to a question put to them during last Wednesday's controversial debate hosted by ABC News in Philadelphia The fact that the first 45 minutes of the 90-minute debate dealt almost exclusively with Obama's comment on working-class Americans being "bitter" about their economic standing, his former pastor's incendiary sermons -- and even Obama's decision not to wear an American flag lapel pin -- infuriated viewers, who castigated ABC News moderators Charles Gibson and George Stephanopolous for not asking substantive questions about Iraq, the economy and other issues of concern to voters until the second half of the debate. (Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/Agence France-Presse)

(Updated 12:00 noon EDT Monday, April 21, 2008)
By Skeeter Sanders

The presidential campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton thought that by getting tough and going negative against her chief rival for the Democratic nomination, that the former first lady could stop Barack Obama's seemingly unstoppable juggernaut and convince the party's "superdelegates" that she represents the party's best hope of defeating GOP nominee-elect John McCain in November.

But it isn't turning out that way. Clinton's attack strategy has instead blown up in her face, making Obama stronger in the eyes of Democrats nationwide and prompting more of the party's heavyweights -- including another member of former President Bill Clinton's administration -- to lean more toward the Illinois senator.

Clinton's attacks certainly haven't hurt Obama in the fundraising department. On the contrary, Obama raised more money than both Clinton and McCain combined in March, according to campaign finance reports filed Sunday.

Another Former Clinton Cabinet Member Endorses Obama

To make matters worse for Clinton, another former member of her husband's White House cabinet endorsed Obama on Friday. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich wrote in a blog post that "although Hillary Clinton has offered solid and sensible policy proposals, Obama's strike me as even more so."

Reich also said Obama's plans for reforming Social Security and health care have a better chance of succeeding, and his approach to the nation's housing crisis and financial market failures "are sounder than" the New York senator's.

Reich is a former Rhodes scholar and a Yale Law School graduate who is a longtime friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton. He ran for governor in Massachusetts in 2002 and now is a professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

Reich becomes the third former Clinton administration official to back Obama, following New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, a former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; and former Denver Mayor Federico Pena, who served as Transportation and later Energy Secretary under Bill Clinton. Pena became a co-chair of Obama's campaign last September.

Obama Gets Backing By Two Conservative Democrats. . .

Two other Democratic elder statesmen, former Senators Sam Nunn of Georgia and David Boren of Oklahoma, also said they were supporting the Illinois senator. Nunn and Boren said they have accepted Obama's invitation to serve as advisers to his national security foreign policy team.

Nunn served as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee from 1987 to 1995, while Boren was the longest-serving chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Both fall into the conservative end of the Democratic party's ideological spectrum and both gave Bill Clinton trouble during his presidency, trying to tug him to the right on issues while most congressional Democrats were leaning to the left.

Most memorably, Nunn forced President Clinton to compromise on the still-simmering issue over whether gay men and lesbians could serve in the U.S. military without keeping their sexual identity a secret. That compromise, known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," remains in force.

In a statement issued by the Obama campaign, Nunn said: "We need a president who has the temperament of a leader -- a sharp, incisive, strategic mind, a rare capacity for self criticism, and a willingness to hear contrary points of view. Based on my conversations with Senator Obama, reading his book and his speeches and seeing the kind of campaign he has run, I believe that he is our best choice to lead our nation."

Boren said: "Our most urgent task is to end the divisions in our country, to stop the political bickering, and to unite our talents and efforts. Americans of all persuasions are pleading with our political leaders to bring us together. I believe Senator Obama is sincerely committed to that effort. He has made a non-partisan approach to all issues a top priority."

. . .And Picks Up More Superdelegates

Meanwhile, more Democratic superdelegates -- who will hold the balance of power in determing who ultimately wins the party's nomination -- announced their support for Obama. Reggie Whitten, an attorney and superdelegate from Oklahoma, endorsed Obama last Thursday. He said he "could have waited a while'' to endorse the Illinois senator, yet it wasn't "fair'' for Clinton to focus on "that one comment out of context.''

Whitten said he decided to back Obama because "The American people are tired of the negativity, I think they're tired of fighting among the party and I think its time for the party to unite. I hope that my coming out [for Obama] will be one tiny little thing that will push in that direction.''

Nancy Larson, a Democratic National Committee member from rural Minnesota, said Clinton's "bothersome'' response contributed to her endorsement of Obama a week ago Sunday.

On Saturday, the Obama campaign said that Steve Achelpohl, the Nebraska state Democratic Party chairman, was backing Obama. Achelpohl told the Lincoln Journal Star that people could rally behind Obama's "positive campaign.''

The seven superdelegates who endorsed Obama this week also include three members of Congress and one city council member from the District of Columbia. Several superdelegates criticized Clinton in interviews with Bloomberg News for what they called parsing Obama's words instead of focusing on policy differences with McCain.

Representative David Price of North Carolina, who endorsed Obama last Wednesday, said that while his announcement was not timed to Clinton's attacks, "it's disappointing to see this kind of campaign approach. The real issues should be who is addressing economic difficulties,'' Price said.

Clinton spokesman Mo Elleithee denied any movement to Obama as a result of the negative campaigning. "We haven't seen any of that. If anything, this debate and ongoing campaign has been energizing the party,'' Elleithee said.

Obama Pulls a Truman, Gives Clinton Hell Over Her 'Slash and Burn' Tactics

And for the first time in the campaign, Obama took off the gloves and went on the offensive against Clinton, branding the former first lady a game-player who uses "slash and burn" tactics and will say whatever people want to hear -- his sharpest-ever jab at her character in the final weekend before Tuesday's pivotal Pennsylvania primary.

Apparently fed up with weeks of incessant attacks by Clinton against his qualifications to be president, Obama bluntly questioned her truthfulness, playing on poll findings indicating growing public unease with her veracity after the New York senator was forced to acknowledge during last Wednesday's debate with Obama that she didn't tell the truth about her 1996 visit to Bosnia.

In Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, several thousand Obama supporters lined the tracks Saturday for the first stop on a day-long whistle-stop tour evocative of President Harry S. Truman's in 1948 aboard a royal blue train car that pulled out of Philadelphia in late morning.

"I may not be perfect, but I will always tell you what I think and I will always tell you where I stand," he told the crowd. Then, like Truman, Obama gave his rival hell -- although with none of the salty, expletive-laced language that was a trademark of the nation's 33rd president.

"She's taken different positions at different times on issues as fundamental as trade, or even the war, to suit the politics of the moment," he said. "And when she gets caught at it, the notion is, well, you know what, that's just politics. That's how it works in Washington. You can say one thing here and say another thing there."

The former first lady had said on the campaign trail that she came under sniper fire after arriving at the American Air Force base in Tuzla, Bosnia. But video footage posted on and later broadcast on the "CBS Evening News" clearly showed that no such sniper fire took place. The Clinton campaign has been in damage-control mode since -- to no avail, according to the latest polls.

Clinton's Negative Poll Ratings Soar; Would Lose to McCain in November

Clinton's negative poll ratings -- already the highest of the three remaining major candidates for the White House -- have increased sharply, partly as a result of the Bosnia debacle, with new polls suggesting that she would lose to McCain in the November general election if she became the Democratic nominee.

By comparison, Obama is locked in a statistical dead heat with McCain as independents -- without whom neither party can win in November -- are divided almost evenly between the Arizona Republican and the Illinois Democrat.

In a dramatic reversal of fortune, an Associated Press-Yahoo! News poll found that a clear majority of Democratic voters now say Obama has a better chance of defeating McCain in November than Clinton.

While Obama and Clinton are both sustaining dents and dings from their lengthy presidential fight, the former first lady is clearly suffering more. Democratic voters no longer see her as the party's strongest contender for the White House.

Voters of all types have gotten a better sense of Obama, who was an obscure Illinois legislator just four years ago. As more people moved from the "I don't know him" category in the AP-Yahoo! News poll, more rated Obama as inexperienced, unethical and dishonest. And 15 percent erroneously think he's a Muslim, thanks in part to disinformation widely spread on the Internet.

But Obama's positive ratings have climbed as well, while Clinton — widely known since the early 1990s — has been less able to change people's views of her. And when those views have shifted, it has hurt her more than helped. The New York senator's ratings for being honest, likable, ethical and refreshing have fallen since January, and Obama scores higher than she does in all those categories.

In late January, before Obama scored 11 straight primary and caucus victories, 56 percent of Democrats saw Clinton as the stronger nominee, compared to 33 percent for Obama. Now, Obama leads on that question, 56 to 43 percent.

White Discomfort With Obama's Race Largely Confined to Republicans and Conservatives, Poll Finds

Still, the poll, conducted by Knowledge Networks, contains some worrisome signs for the first-term senator. Those rating him as "not at all honest," for example, jumped from 18 percent last fall to 27 percent in April. It came as he was put on the defensive over incendiary comments by his former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

But many who hold such views are Republicans or conservative independents, who would be unlikely to vote in a Democratic primary or support a Democrat in the fall anyway. In January, 30 percent of Republicans rated Obama very unfavorably. That grew to 43 percent in April. Among conservative independents, 12 percent had a very unfavorable view of Obama in January. That has nearly doubled to 23 percent.

Obama would be the first African American to win the White House if elected, and the survey detected some evidence of racial discomfort in voters' minds. It found that about eight percent of whites overall would be uncomfortable voting for a black person for president.

That figure soars to about 13 percent of white Republicans, but very few, if any, white Democrats feel the same way. In November, about 5 percent of white Democrats indicated discomfort at voting for a black person for president, a figure that has remained unchanged since then.

The most encouraging sign for Obama is that many Democrats who previously saw Clinton as their party's best hope now give him that role. About one-third of them still prefer Clinton, but they have lost confidence in her electability.

If Campaign Dollars Were Votes, Obama Would Win By Landslide

Obama continued his torrid fundraising pace, netting $41 million in March. The Illinois senator is armed with a $42 million war chest to launch another TV ad blitz in Pennsylvania against Clinton. Overall, Obama had $51 million in the bank at the end of March, with nearly $9 million of that available only for the general election

By comparison, Clinton raised only $20 million in the same period and had only $8 milion on hand for the Pennsylvania primary.

McCain's campaign reported raising $15.2 million in March and had $11.6 million in the bank. The Arizona senator's March figures were his best fundraising performance of the campaign.

Nonetheless, Obama has out-fundraised both Clinton and McCain combined.

McCain in March refunded donors about $3 million in contributions, most of it money he had received for the general election. The refunds set the stage for McCain to accept about $84 million in public funds for the fall campaign. Candidates who accept public financing cannot raise money from donors for the general election campaign.

Is Pennsylvania Clinton's Last Stand?

With the Keystone State the last major big-state primary before the Democratic Convention, Clinton must win by a greater than 60 percent vote margin to have any hope of stopping Obama's march to the nomination.

But with polls showing Clinton with, at best, only a nine-point lead -- and some polls showing the two combatants locked a statistical dead heat -- her argument to the party's supedelegates that she'd be the most electable nominee -- an argument already undermined by her Bosnia debacle -- could end up going down the drain, no matter what happens in Pennsylvania.

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Volume III, Number 27
Copyright 2008, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.



Anonymous said...

Is Pennsylvania Clinton's last stand?

We can only hope.