A few weeks ago, at the Jefferson Jackson Dinner in Iowa, Hillary Clinton unveiled a new campaign slogan, "Turn Up the Heat." But, that night in Iowa, it was Barack Obama who stole the show, with a universally praised speech which has helped propel him to the lead Iowa according to the latest Des Moines Register poll (he also leads in the latest American Research Group Poll and in the latest ABC/Washington Post Poll.) In New Hampshire, where Clinton has been ahead by double digits over Obama for seemingly months, Real Clear Politics shows the latest New Hampshire polls have Obama's momentum spreading north with Obama trailing in the two newest polls by only seven points (halving Hillary's earlier leads). With Obama's momentum continuing to gain traction, and Clinton seeing her inevitable run to the White House vanishing before her eyes, she no longer is "Turning Up The Heat" on Republicans, but instead is feeling the heat herself. And as Barack Obama has been preaching his entire campaign, Hillary is reverting back to the calculating, textbook, old-school politician that she is and she's going on the attack against Obama. And there's a reason why it's called a "textbook campaign," because, it works and has been proven successful in the past. But will it work now for Hillary Clinton? If her attacks this weekend are any indication, likely not.
Just a few weeks ago, at the last Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton decried the attacks of Barack Obama and John Edwards, and said she had hoped that her Democratic colleagues would not start "slinging mud from the Republican playbook." But, after that debate failed to stop her backwards slide from the disastrous MSNBC debate, and with Obama's momentum continuing to grow, Clinton now says she enjoys getting down in the mud.
Clinton said at a Cedar Rapids stop designed to encourage first-time caucusgoers to attend and vote for her, that she would spend the next month drawing more contrasts between her and her Democratic rivals.
“I have said for months that I would much rather be attacking Republicans and attacking the problems of our country, because ultimately, that’s what I want to do as president, but I have been for months on the receiving act of consistent attacks,” she said. “Now the fun part starts.”
Fun? Attacking fellow Democrats is fun? I thought the fun part was solving America's problems and providing health care for the uninsured. I thought that Clinton was above these partisan attacks, not having fun participating in them. Barack Obama, as he rightfully should, responded quickly and effectively in a quote posted on Politico.com:
This presidential campaign isn't about attacking people for fun, it's about solving people's problems, like ending this war and creating a universal health care system. Washington insiders might think throwing mud is fun, but the American people are looking for leadership that can unite this country around a common purpose, and that's what I'll continue to offer in this campaign.
Obama needs to hammer Clinton on that quote. It was a huge mistake by Clinton, but it'll only stay that way if Obama can capitalize on this opening. By saying attacking Demcrats is fun, it confirms every worst fear that people who are on the fence about Hillary have. She's partisan, she's divisive, she's looking for a fight. Barack Obama, on the other hand, is looking for a solution. He has to make that distinction (fight vs. solution) a focal point in the next 24-48 hours. Especially given that Clinton is not just attacking Obama's policies, but is admittedly questioning his character.
It’s beginning to look a lot like that [that Obama has a character problem] — it really is, where we can’t get a straight answer on health care, where somebody runs on ethics and not taking money from certain people is found to have at least skirted if not violated FEC rules and to use lobbyists and PAC money to do so.
The FEC Rules bit is something the Hillary campaign is spending a lot of time on this weekend, and with Obama's "new direction, new kind of politician" campaign, he's set himself to have a higher standard to meet. I don't know if what Obama is doing with his PAC was illegal (it seems perfectly innocent to me -- He's trying to get Democrats elected across the country and has donated money to lots of candidates that have not and will not endorsed him, and one report I read said $4000 was even donated to the Clinton campaign) but that story, along with David Yepsen's peice in the Des Moines Register, criticizing Obama for encouraging out-of-state college students who go to school in Iowa to return for the Iowa Caucuses, it could be a bit of a rough start to the week for Barack. In both cases, his behavior is perfectly legal, and what any other smart politician would likely do, but when you are campaigning as the anti-politician, the stories blur the distinction between old-school and new-school Obama is trying to draw.
Which is why changing the story to Hillary's glee in starting a mud fight is perfect and it's really incredible that Clinton has provided this opening. But, it may not be too surprising. The Clintons read polling better than anybody else, and they know what it takes to win. And they can read Obama's rise just as everyone else can, and they know they have to stunt his momentum, and the only way to do that, is to do what they do best, go negative. Will Iowa and New Hampshire voters buy what the Clinton's are selling? Or will they see through it and continue to abandon Clinton to join Obama's campaign? A lot will depend on how Obama reacts to Clinton's body-shots, and how he can use those shots to his advantage, to show Iowa and New Hampshire voters that a vote for Clinton is a vote for another four years of negativity, gridlock, and partianship. After all, as Clinton herself has said, that's what she finds "fun."