Two new fronts of campaign warfare: Romney v. McCain and Edwards v. Obama

Two showdowns today on the campaign trail illustrate the changing dynamics of the race -- Romney went after McCain and Obama went after Edwards. Two weeks to Iowa, this says a lot about where the race is heading.

(1) Romney v. McCain

The Republican contest, first. Mitt Romney held on to massive leads in Iowa and New Hampshire for months, until Mike Huckabee surged and passed him in Iowa. Romney devoted much of the following two weeks blasting Huckabee every chance he had and firing the first negative ads of the cycle drawing contrasts with the former Arkansas Governor -- especially on immigration. But Romney now finds himself in danger in New Hampshire, where McCain has some stunning momentum. The polls are showing a tightening race, and Giuliani's fading means that there is more potential for McCain to rise -- especially if Romney loses Iowa.

Romney can possibly survive an Iowa loss, but there is no way he can get away with losing New Hampshire as well. The most urgent threat facing his candidacy is no longer Huckabee but McCain, quite remarkable a development for the candidate who appeared so solid three weeks ago. And thus Romney aimed at McCain today -- something candidates very rarely do given how weak McCain has been almost all year:

He voted against the Bush tax cuts — twice. That's failing Reagan 101. Reagan taught ... almost all of us in the Republican Party that lowering taxes would grow the economy and was good for our economy and good for individuals. And I believe that the Republicans are going to nominate a tax-cutter to become president of the United States.

Consider that Romney and McCain's relationship has always been awful and McCain famously despises the former Massachusetts Governor. One of the hottest exchanges in the last GOP debate on CNN was the back-and-forth between these two candidates on waterboarding. And with Romney now taking aim at McCain directly to try to fend him off, you can expect things to degenerate very rapidly between the two candidates.

Needless to say, this is not at all the scenario Romney envisioned for late December. He has spent millions all year to put Iowa and New Hampshire away, and you bet that he would have preferred to spend at least some time this month in states like Nevada, Michigan and South Carolina. McCain and Huckabee have destroyed his well-crafted early-state strategy.

(2) Obama v. Edwards

This one is a bit harder to make sense of. I reported this morning that there was an increasing number of 527s getting involved in Iowa -- though none of them was siding with Obama. Now, Obama is using this issue to raise a contrast with John Edwards -- pointing out that Edwards campaigns as the clean candidate who's pure on campaign finance, which is hardly compatible with use of independent funds. From his campaign:

It's not change when you decry the influence of money in politics but then stay silent when your former campaign manager exploits the biggest loophole in the law to benefit the Edwards' campaign with millions of dollars in ads from an unregulated political fund whose donors are undisclosed.

As I said this morning, most of the 527s playing in Iowa are institutional groups that are key pillars of the Democratic coalition (Emily's List, major unions). The latest controversy erupted over a more opaque "issue advocacy group" (the Alliance for a New America) which appears to be pro-Edwards, so Obama is attacking Edwards without antagonizing groups like unions. However, it is key to understand that (1) we can't imagine Obama would complain much if the SEIU or AFSCME had endorsed him and was now helping him, and (2) Edwards has absolutely no control over what the Alliance for a New America does. In fact, Edwards responded to Obama's challenge by issuing a very strong statement calling for the 527s to "stop these ads" -- though it is unlikely the new group will listen to him.

Beyond the detail of the back-and-forth, the fascinating question is of course what can possibly have led Obama to take aim at Edwards and risk drawing him in the fight that is usually portrayed as a Clinton-Obama showdown. Clearly, the Obama campaign is realizing that Edwards is more than alive in Iowa -- and that it is threatening to siphon away a lot (if not a majority) of the anti-Clinton votes while also undermining Obama's argument that he is the change agent in the race. If anything, Obama's attack confirms that their internal polls are showing Edwards strong -- and perhaps rising -- in the caucuses, and they are worried about Edwards passing them.

Obama is also clearly aware that the Clinton campaign would infinitely prefer losing to Edwards than to them -- since Clinton would have a much more easy time defeating Edwards down-the-line (starting in NH) than Obama. And it has thus become imperative for Obama to fight both candidates at once, which could risk putting Obama at the middle of heated exchanges which he's usuallly been able to avoid.

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  • Or perhaps it is nothing more than simply trying to make lemonade (a nice contrast with Edwards that puts him on the defensive on his key campaign theme) from lemons (the lack of a 527 presence in Iowa). I do not see this as necessarily indicating that the Obama camapaign's internals show an upswing in Edwards numbers. Perhaps they see this as a way to siphon off Edwards supporters to help them in their fight with the Clinton campaign.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 24 December, 2007 00:03  

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