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Barack Obama: Hope on the Ropes

a_clinton_obama_0107.jpgObama is, to use the boxing parlance, 'on the ropes.' Hillary's huge 30 point lead in the Democratic primary polls is continuing to increase at the same time that her fundraising milestones grow, and given signs like key Obama ally Bob Farmer defecting from Obama's national finance committee and moving over to Hillary's camp it is no wonder pundits are writing off Obama's chances at the White House.

But Barack Obama is planning to come out swinging. Recently Rudy Giuiani, faced with polls which showed him losing to Clinton, Obama and Edwards, shifted strategy and went into 'attack Clinton' mode. This weekend, with just two months left before the first Democratic primary, Barack Obama announced that he intends to do the same.

In an interview Friday that appeared timed by his campaign to signal the change of course, the Illinois Democrat said that "now is the time" for him to distinguish himself from Clinton.

While he said that he was not out to "kneecap the front-runner, because I don't think that's what the country is looking for," he said she was deliberately obscuring her positions for political gain and was less likely than he was to win back the White House for Democrats.

Obama is correct. Clinton is obscuring her positions in an attempt to hold onto the lead as it is clearly her race to lose at this point. It's standard frontrunner strategy, and Giuliani is engaged in doing the same (as exemplified by Larkin's report on Giuliani's waterboarding remarks), but Obama takes it one step further.

Asked whether Clinton had been fully truthful with voters about what she would do as president, Obama replied, "No."

Attacking the frontrunner is standard, textbook campaign strategy. But what is both telling, and at the same time hugely disappointing, is that Obama was the candidate who was going to chart a new course and not pursue politics as usual; he was going to engage Americans in a dialog. Now he's looking for a way to trip Clinton instead.

For months, Democrats, including some within his campaign, have questioned whether Obama's promise to pursue a brand of politics that transcended partisanship had so stymied him that he could not compete in the most partisan of arenas.

In the interview, Obama acknowledged that he had held back until now, though he asserted it had been a calculated decision to introduce himself in early-voting states before engaging opponents.

But Obama said that the plan had always been for him to begin taking on Clinton more directly in the autumn.

Obama's steady downward slide in the polls began last February and it's taken nine months for him to make a serious move towards reversing that trend. Democrats like myself have been waiting to see if he has what it takes to slug it out on the national stage. The role of underdog served BIll Clinton well in his first race for the White House however, so perhaps we'll witness Obama's rise from ruin over the next two months -- all he has to do is follow in the footsteps of his opponent's husband.

My guess is he's waited too long, but if nothing else his attack on Clinton over the next several months will test her steel against an aggressive, formidable candidate -- the same way a boxing contender would spar in preparation for upcoming title match -- and it'll be good practice for Hillary. The Democratic debate in Philadelphia next Tuesday will be 'Round 1," and it will be interesting to see if Obama comes out swinging and how Clinton reacts to that.


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Comments (1)

Steve Crickmore[TypeKey Profile Page]:

Lee, you covered the ground very well..Kevin Drum has had two posts on this subject, the past weekend, but generally commenters, all of whom seem to want Barack to win or at least do better, are as pessimistic as you are are, that he has left it too late.

Maybe he just doesn't have enough fire in his belly or he is too nice a guy. And issue-wise he isn't so far apart from her. When you have to politely announce that in the future you will confront Hillary because she has not been candid or 'truthful' on the issues, you know you are in trouble. What has he been waiting for?...Christmas will be too late.

I'm getting ahead of your post Lee, but Obama has allowed Hillary to frame the debate with her presentation of herself (contrasted to Obama) that she is the experienced wise decision-maker. What were her positive contributions in the Clinton White House? Generally she was a negative influence at the White House -'motel 6', 'travelgate', the secrecy of the health insurance plan- until she learned to stay out of the running of the west wing. As a senator she has been more collegial, but again has introduced no noteworthy legislation, that I know of.

One example, that almost no one has pointed out, was in New York's losing Olympic bid in July 2005, in which she ranted and raved in Singapore, following London's winning vote, edging out Paris, both of whom had stronger bids than New York's. Clinton's remarks in losing were very 'unstateswomanlike' and anything but gracious.

"Obviously the committee was stacked with extremist judges," Clinton said when stopped by reporters on her way to the Senate cafeteria. "What we have here is a vicious partisan attack. The [International Olympic] Committee is practicing the politics of municipal destruction".

If Obama can rattle her like that he will have chance?


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Publisher: Kevin Aylward

Editors: Lee Ward, Larkin, Paul S Hooson, and Steve Crickmore

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