12.11.2007

Democrats: Clinton blasting Obama's health care plan and, in a new twist, his electability

Hillary Clinton is stepping up her rhetoric against Barack Obama. Her double offensive today centers on health care -- keeping with what has shaped up to be one of the major battlefronts of the Democratic nomination -- and a new theme: electability!

Notice the fundamental change in the tone of the campaign: Clinton wants to put Obama in the spotlight, make him run as the front-runner as well. And since Obama started his surge in November, it really is fair to now scrutinize him much closely. The media and Clinton have ample time to give Obama front-runner treatment. Obama can no longer run as the underdog challenging Clinton; he now also faces his own share of negative stories against which he has to defend himself. Clinton is now no longer the inevitable nominee. And while that is not a good thing for her, it does come with some benefits.

Let's look at the health care battle, first, as the Democratic primary has been very much shaped over the past 10 days by Krugman's columns in the New York Times blasting Obama for his right-wing rhetoric on health care and against mandates. Sensing that this is one issue on which Clinton can argue she is at Obama's left, she is now running with the issue in Iowa.

First up, her campaign has sent a mailer to Iowa households written and signed by former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack (a potential VP pick for Clinton). Vilsack explains that Obama's health care plan is weak, and invites voters to read the Krugman column... which is included in the mailer! An unthinkable development earlier in the year, but the Clinton campaign is now using Krugman, one of the heroes of the intellectual left, to drive its campaign! (You can view the mailer here; the link opens a PDF).

And here is a flier that is being distributed in Iowa by the Clinton campaign, on health care again -- this one is explicitly negative. Here again, Clinton is blasting Obama for being Republican-lite on health care, a stunning reversal of arguments Obama waged during the summer. And here again, three of the four quotes used are from Krugman.
The second Clinton offensive is centered on Obama's electability -- a new strategy that Clinton has not employed much up until now. It is Clinton's electability that has been questioned throughout the campaign by the Obama and Edwards campaign; and such questions are usually reserved for a front-runner. Voters choosing an underdog rarely wonder how electable he is -- but Clinton's camp is clearly feeling that with Obama now clearly in a position to become the nominee, it is time to put the spotlight on him.

Senator Evan Bayh (another potential VP pick) and other Clinton backers held a press conference today to explain why Clinton is the most electable -- and highlighted her consistency and her ability to... win Arkansas. What to make of this strategy? Does it have any potential?

Polls have rarely shown Obama running significantly poorly than Clinton; in fact, he sometimes runs significantly better in Midwestern or Western states. But Clinton's argument is that Obama has not been through intense media coverage yet of past statements and his exact positions on issues. Once the spotlight gets turned on Obama, she wants to argue, voters will be uncomfortable with his flip-flops and his positions that make him unelectable.

And indeed, the media is starting to buy that argument and look at Obama. The big story today is the Politico's unearthing of a questionnaire filled by Obama (his campaign is now answering it was filled by an aide, though I really don't see how that changes anything) in the 1990s. The questionnaire flatly says "no" to death penalty and to resitrictions on abortion, and yes to a ban on possession of guns. The Politico (and now the Clinton campaign) point out that Obama has gone back on his positions... opening both an attack on him for being too liberal and for changing his position. The Politico speculates that Obama has never had to face a Republican opponent and will therefore be unprepared for the coming onslaught -- with a lot of never before released information.

This argument does not necessarily hold very far: After all, the GOP nominee will also be mostly unknown and will face a deluge of stories that are not known to voters. Only Clinton really has had everything about her already revealed. Though the argument against Clinton's electability is as groundless and debatable, so the point here is not the merits of each argument as much as the fact that the spotlight is no longer solely on Clinton, and Obama has to justify himself as well.

Update:
The Washington Post just released its national primary poll... and it has Clinton surprisingly breaking 50%! It had been weeks and weeks that had not happened. National polls really don't matter at this point, but trend lines do as they point out to dynamics, so here it goes: Clinton is at 53%, Obama at 23% and Edwards at 19%.

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6 Comments:

  • Wow different policies for the Southside of Chicago and the rest of the US ... that seems reasonable to me. Clinton has no room to talk about consistency. Obama does run better then Clinton in many states. Hillary is falling as the days go by....

    By Blogger Stephen, At 11 December, 2007 19:52  

  • I don't know how Clinton could even mention electability. She is the one that likely cost Democrats victory in the OH-05 special election and will cost a lot more in 2008 if she is the nominee.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 11 December, 2007 23:20  

  • Oh, I don't know. I think what cost the Democrats the victory in OH-05 was that they were running in a very red district and didn't spend as much to take the seat as the GOP was willing to spend to retain it. I'm not sure how either of those things is due to Hillary.

    By Anonymous Mr. Rational, At 11 December, 2007 23:37  

  • "I don't know how Clinton could even mention electability. She is the one that likely cost Democrats victory in the OH-05 special election and will cost a lot more in 2008 if she is the nominee."

    Do you have any numbers to back this up? Anything?

    Polls show that Hillary Clinton is highly electable. She has a higher core support than anyone else running for president, on both sides. And the people who refuse to vote for her and hardcore Republicans who would never vote for a Democratic candidate.

    She draws enough moderate Republican women to make most of the south a nice shade of purple. Add in a serious money advantage and she could force the Republicans to spend so much in traditional Red states that she'll nearly sweep all the close matches.

    By Anonymous C.S.Strowbridge, At 12 December, 2007 07:12  

  • CS, what is important is Congressional races. Democrats cannot have a candidate at the top of the ballot that 50% of the country hates. This could be fatal to Democrats like Baron Hill, Nancy Boyda, Nick Lampson, and several others. If Democrats lose seats in the House while electing Hillary, you can look forward to four long years of getting nothing done, just like Bill Clinton's first two years.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 12 December, 2007 17:53  

  • "If Democrats lose seats in the House while electing Hillary, you can look forward to four long years of getting nothing done, just like Bill Clinton's first two years."

    Illogical. In Clinton's first two years, he had Democratic majorities in both houses. If nothing got done, it was due to a lack of bipartisan compromise in measures going through the Senate, where Republicans had the votes to keep debate alive. The House doesn't enter into it.

    By Anonymous Mr. Rational, At 13 December, 2007 00:10  

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