CAMPAIGN 08, NEWS & EDITOR’S COMMENT: Clinton’s attacks won’t work

Clinton camp splits on message

Before the Iowa caucuses, senior aides to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton fell into a heated argument during a 7:30 a.m. conference call about the basic message their candidate was delivering to voters.

Mark Penn, chief strategist and pollster, liked Clinton’s emphasis on her “strength and experience,” and he defended the idea of her running as a quasi-incumbent best suited for the presidency. Harold Ickes and other advisors said that message was not working. A more promising strategy, they argued, would be to focus on the historic prospect of electing the first woman president.

Today, as Clinton tries to revive her campaign after losing 10 straight primary contests to Sen. Barack Obama, some insiders look back and wish that argument had produced a different outcome. Penn won the debate, say two people aware of the conversation, and Clinton went on to present herself to voters as a steely figure so familiar with the workings of government that she could lead from Day One.

The Clinton campaign now seems in peril, its precarious situation acknowledged on Wednesday even by former President Bill Clinton, who suggested that his wife could not survive a loss in either of the next two major contests, in Texas and Ohio on March 4. [complete article]

See also, As crucial tests loom, Clinton hits harder (WP).

Editor’s Comment — According to in the New York Times:

When Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton meets Senator Barack Obama at a one-on-one debate in Austin on Thursday night, one of her final opportunities to change the course of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, she will again face the challenge that has repeatedly stymied her: how to discredit her popular opponent without hurting herself.

But that isn’t just a challenge; it’s a false proposition. The only reason the strategy of cutting down your opponent ever has a chance of working is when support for both candidates is weak. The attacks need to highlight flaws that were already visible and occur in a context where a significant number of voters are struggling to decide between the lesser of two evils.

Clinton’s problem is that her attacks reflect much more on her than they do on her opponent. To the extent that the Clinton campaign becomes focused on what’s wrong with Obama, she looks more and more like a sour loser — someone incapable of showing the grace to acknowledge defeat. On top of that, an attack campaign has a subtext that’s likely to offend the people it’s trying to win over. It’s saying: Vote for me. Don’t be a naive sucker who gets taken in by Obama’s charm and oratory. That’s an insult wrapped up inside an invitation.

Clinton’s other huge problem is that instead of running a presidential campaign, she’s been running a nomination campaign. If she were ever up against McCain, her whole strength-and-experience argument falls flat — unless of course the New York Times is able to intercede on her behalf and torpedo the strong and experienced Republican.

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