12.14.2007

Democrats: Clinton pursues the electability argument with increasingly ugly undertones

Hillary Clinton is not backing down. She is continuing to wage the electability argument. But after the Shaheen scandal, the strategy has suddenly taken very negative undertones -- which the campaign has apparently decided to take on.

We reported a few days ago that her campaign was now blasting Obama for his lack of electability, arguing that Obama has never been through intense media vetting -- and that Republicans will have a field day bringing it all out during the general election.

And then an over-zealous campaign official went way too far, suggesting that the GOP would blast Barack's past drug-use and even ask him if he had even dealt drugs. The Clinton campaign promptly fired Bill Shaheen. Whether or not the campaign is sincere in saying that they did not direct anyone to bring up Obama's drug-use directly, it is obvious that Shaheen's comments did not come out of nowhere: They are a logical result of Clinton's new strategy of turning the spotlight on Obama and making voters worry about him for a change.

At an interview with Iowa radio today, Clinton made her new argument crystal clear:

If you want to know what I am going to do – look at what I have already done. I have been tested and vetted, there are no surprises.
There’s not going to be anybody saying, 'I didn’t think of that, my goodness, what’s that going to mean?'

Translation of this pretty explicit argument: 'Everything there is to know about me is already known and ultra-publicized. That is not the case about Obama; Republicans would bury him under attacks for months and bring up so much from his past. Thus, I am more electable.' Let's jump over the merits of the argument for now and say that the drug-use line of attack employed by Shaheen yesterday fits very neatly in this argument. And it is now impossible to hear Clinton say that without thinking of that.

And that is awful news for the campaign. The strategy they had devised so carefuly to turn the spotlight on Obama did not have to look this negative. When Clinton makes it, she never refers to her opponents, and after all it is true that Clinton has gone through so much from the GOP machine that there is very little that can still come out about her past; it is also true that Obama has never faced a competitive Republican in a general election. But all of that could be said and made to bring doubt about Obama's electability without seeming like a nasty below-the-belt argument -- which it has now become thanks to Shaheen's bringing up drugs.

Clinton did not back down from this strategy today, which means her campaign is making a calculated risk that, even if journalists imply that Clinton is being negative and nasty, the storyline will nonetheless stick in the mind of voters -- and that the seeds of doubt about Obama's electability will be implemented. And that is always how negative attacks work: Voters go "ouch that's nasty, I hate it..." but then think about it... This well-known dynamic was obvious in the Swift Boat ads in 2004 which undermined Kerry's credibility. And whether or not voters think Clinton is being nasty, they might still agree that Obama is too dangerous to nominate.

This, however, would not make them switch to Clinton who would be tainted by her negativity. The obvious winner of all of this then? John Edwards. He is not being attacked, and he is not attacking. Exactly where he was in 2004, and he got 33%.

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6 Comments:

  • "And then an over-zealous campaign official went way too far, suggesting that the GOP would blast Barack's past drug-use and even ask him if he had even dealt drugs."

    After watching what they did to Max Cleland, does anyone really think they wouldn't ask that question.

    By Anonymous C.S.Strowbridge, At 14 December, 2007 21:59  

  • No, but that's not the point, is it?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 14 December, 2007 23:35  

  • Yes, because Hillary's comment proves that Dems are willing to stay entirely above board during campaign season.

    By Anonymous Mr. Rational, At 15 December, 2007 00:37  

  • "No, but that's not the point, is it?"

    Then what is the point? Surely electability has to be a consideration during primary season. Surely the point of having a primary is to make sure whoever is nominated is ready to fight for the White House, and that includes making sure there are no surprise attacks. Hell, does anyone think a Republican attack on Obama's past drug use will have nearly the same effect now as it would if it wasn't brought up first by the Democrats.

    This is the same crap that happened when Bill Clinton mentioned swift-boating Hillary.

    By Anonymous C.S.Strowbridge, At 15 December, 2007 08:58  

  • If we're in the business of anticipating GOP attacks, why doesn't Hillary hire Karl Rove and be done with it?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 15 December, 2007 12:37  

  • "If we're in the business of anticipating GOP attacks, why doesn't Hillary hire Karl Rove and be done with it?"

    Please tell me you don't really think that's a valid argument.

    I've yet to hear from anyone who thinks that the Republicans won't bring up Obama's drug past, and won't be dirty about it. Hell, some have called up a jihadist mole, which is far more outrageous.

    How can talking about a weakness in a campaign be out of limits?

    Why won't anyone answer that simple question?

    By Anonymous C.S.Strowbridge, At 16 December, 2007 10:39  

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